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How much do you know about the financial planning process?

We all want to save more, invest more, and ultimately make more. And after reaching the six-figure mark (and beyond), our priorities and our needs change.

At that point, the need for a financial planner will cross your mind. But if you’ve never worked with one, you’ll likely have no idea where to begin. How the heck do find one? And moreover, what does the financial planning process look like?

The entire thing can be intimidating. But thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.

We sat down with Certified Financial Planner (CFP ®)  James Mwombela of GRID 202 Partners– a Washington, D.C. based firm– for an overview of the process from start to finish.

Prefer to skim the list?

Here’s an outline of the financial planning process:

1- Find a Competent Financial Planner

2- Vet Your Financial Planner 

3- Schedule a Free Consultation

4- Assess The Vibe

5- Diagnosis

6- Analysis

7- Tailored Recommendations 

8- Monitoring

Find a Competent Financial Planner

“First and foremost, the right planner will have the right designation,” says Mwombela.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of financial planners in the United States, about a quarter have the  CFP ® designation. 

Websites like let’s you search a database of Certified Financial Planner professionals rigorously trained in financial planning.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors or NAPFA is a directory of personal financial advisors who are fee only advisors.

Vet Your Financial Planner

“The field of financial planning is vast. The best planners know this and wisely choose to specialize in a specific client profile. Some advisors, for instance, work with only doctors, or women, or clients ready to retire.

Now that you know what type of credentials a planner needs, find the best one for you by searching for one who advises on your specific situation. Do a Google search for “financial advisors for women” or “financial advisors for millennials”.

Schedule a Free Consultation

Once you’ve found a qualified advisor who meets your specific needs, it’s time to schedule a consultation.

“During that call you should be doing 80% of the talking,” says Mwombela.

“They need to know the hard facts and the soft facts. Such as your goals and what are your deepest desires. During the consultation, ask your advisor how they get paid. If they are in any way squeamish about it, run for the hills. Any good advisor should be able to explain how they get paid and how this payment model benefits you, the client.”

“A sign of a great advisor is a sincere desire to help you. An advisor should give away as much free advice as he or she can.”

Assess The Vibe

How was your consultation? Did it feel like connecting dots or did it fall flat? Did you get a sense that the advisor cares? Do you think you’ll work well together? If the answer is yes, move forward.


When you move forward with your financial planner, it’s time for the diagnosis phase.

“They’ll need to get documents from you– like tax returns, bank statements, investment statements, pay stubs, company benefits, etc–to confirm what you talked about.”


Next comes the analysis phase. Your financial planner will do this with you, as well as behind the scenes, and it should take about six weeks.

Essentially, he or she will look at your goals and educate you on the tradeoffs of making one financial decision over the other.

For example, let’s say you want to start a new business but you also need to save for retirement. Special financial planning software will show the tradeoffs of choosing one course over the other.

Tailored Recommendations

Now that all the information is in, your advisor will make recommendations that you can decide to move forward with or not. Most financial planners will give you a document that will explain all recommendations.


This phase is simply monitoring the ongoing progress of your financial plan. As life changes, your plans will too. And typically, the first financial plan you create will need to change. Quarterly phone calls are a common way to monitor these goals.

Those eight steps are the basics of the financial planning process. Each person and situation is unique. But in general, this is what your experience will look like.

How Much Does a Financial Planner Cost?

Most pricing models charge 1% of assets managed.

The second way is charging a commission from investment and insurance products. The third option is a flat fee (or retainer) paid monthly, quarterly or annually. This can be based on the complexity of work but is usually 1-2% of your income.

Financial planners can also be compensated by hourly fees. “For hourly work, the going rate is between $150 and $400, ” says Mwombela.

“For clients who don’t have enough assets to pay an asset-based fee, we charge flat fees based on complexity of the work. Our minimum annual fee is $2,500 for single clients and $4,000 for couples.”

James Mwombela is a Certified Financial Planner with GRID 202 Partners. He is passionate about helping successful professionals make educated financial decisions so they can build a life they love and drive positive social impact.  

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Featured photo by Jack Owens via Unsplash