"It's very difficult to educate the public, because Americans are very susceptible to advertising," he said. "They believe things they hear, but what they don't hear [about choosing an advisor] is: What's the conflict of interest? What are the biases? What is their training? What are they selling? Advice? Products? What are the fees?"
People often walk into Haas' office not knowing what they're looking for, he added. "It's always a struggle to get them to pay for an unbiased financial plan, in part because they don't understand the value of making better financial decisions," Haas said. "They don't realize the thousands they could save over time in taxes, or gain through budgeting or putting assets to work."
For his part, McAdams' Simonides said the public doesn't "know if they need an advisor, they don't know how to find one, and they don't know how to evaluate one."
The industry overall needs to provide more clarity to the public, according to Jonathan R. Kelley, CFP and partner at Hinds Financial Group.