NEW YORK (MainStreet) — At some point, you may realize that seeking free financial advice from your family and friends is just not getting you where you want to go. That’s when you are likely to begin the task of finding a suitable financial advisor.

Whether it’s a one-man shop in your neighborhood or a team of advisors in a downtown office suite, you’ll want to start the process with a face-to-face conversation. And it may be what the advisor says – or doesn’t say – that ultimately leads to your decision.

Consumers believe most advisors say the same thing, according to a new study from Pershing, a service provider to financial firms. Fully 60% of investors surveyed said that many advisors make similar promises, and that doesn’t make the decision on which one to choose any easier.

The first thing that investors don’t want to hear, according to the poll, is jargon. And in an industry full of Wall Street speak, it may be hard to find an advisor who can resist the urge to brandish a few buzzwords. In addition to decoding the usual financial phraseology, you are likely to hear words like “holistic” and “best-in-class” – little more than verbal tap dances. The Pershing research says clients are more interested in hearing plain talk about trust and accountability, rather than technology and market mumbo-jumbo.

Clients looking for an advisor should listen for these key attributes:

  • How does the advisor distinguish himself from other financial consultants? With customized solutions tailored to your needs, experience or qualifications?
  • How is the advisor compensated? By fees alone, or is there a subtle sales agenda built on commissionable products -- such as insurance or “structured” or “managed” products? An advisor should be able to explain all charges, seen and unseen, without handing you a fee schedule full of fine print.
  • Does the advisor specifically say that he will “put your best interests first” with a “fiduciary duty,” or is his standard of care simply “suitability”? These are very important words to listen for.
  • The survey also found investors are wary of advisors promising “simplicity.” Most of the respondents said they accepted the fact that financial matters can be complicated and that they will have to take an active role in the process.
  • If a conservative investment approach is important to you, listen for an advisor who places special emphasis on “preservation of capital.”
  • Trust is a central theme for most investors. An advisor under consideration should say why he is trustworthy and how his investment process is held to accountability.

According to the research, the most important thing an advisor can say is, “We are accountable to our clients. We say what we do, and do what we say.”

If you hear that, keep listening.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet