In a bull market, most investors love their stockbrokers. But when the bears charge in, opinions change sharply.

Selecting a broker isn’t an exact science. It’s a combination of demeanor, responsiveness and results, and you have to determine the right mix.

So, how do you select the right broker? There are issues you can examine to determine your comfort level. By honestly answering some basic questions, you can come to a better understanding of how satisfied you are with your current broker or what you need to look for in a new one.

Integrity: The first issue you should consider is whether you trust the individual. If you don’t trust your broker, you can’t be sure that you’re getting objective advice and counsel.

Do you believe what the individual tells you? Do you feel that crucial information is being withheld; the potential of investment recommendations is being overstated; or that you’re being deceived? If so, move on. You will be better off.

Does your broker seem to have your best interests at heart? You should feel secure that you’re working with someone who’s genuinely dedicated to your success.

Here’s another test: Has your broker ever tried to talk you out of a trade instead of taking the easy commission?

The manner in which your broker handles bad news also is important. For example, when an investment loses money, does your broker call you? You need someone who will give you an honest assessment of the situation. All brokers make mistakes. Good brokers own up to them.

Chemistry: Another absolute is that you have to develop a rapport, otherwise the relationship is bound to be short. Why deal with someone you don’t like? You’re talking about someone who is assisting with your financial well-being, that’s a pretty intimate relationship.

Do you find that you hesitate to call when you need advice? If you’re comfortable, confident and at ease with the individual – if you enjoy doing business with him or her – you’re on the right track.

Do you feel that there’s an attitude of “we’re in this together?” If so, congratulations, you’re in a good spot.

Responsiveness: When you ask your broker for material or information, do you get it in a timely manner? Does he/she return your calls?

When you have money to invest, does your broker call with ideas and suggestions? When there is important news about your investments, do you hear about it from him/her before you read about it in the paper?

Is your broker available when you call? Does he/she call you with advice about what and when to sell? Does the broker call when trades are executed and inform you of the price? Does your broker take personal responsibility for seeing that your questions are answered and your problems solved?

Each year, does your broker review your investments with you?

Service problems have led to more lost accounts than performance problems ever will. All of these areas and more add up to good service.

Understanding: Does your broker listen to you – really listen? Does he/she take time to determine your needs, objectives and risk tolerance? Does your broker ask appropriate and fact-finding questions?

An effective broker won’t make a recommendation without first determining your objectives. Since most clients aren’t adept at expressing needs, it takes skill to get the appropriate information. You need an attentive broker to be well served.

Knowledge and Results: Naturally, you should have a broker with demonstrated knowledge, familiarity with various types of investments and a positive track record.

If you’re mainly interested in stocks, you certainly want someone who watches that market’s day-to-day movements. But you also want someone who can give you advice on the long-term direction. Similarly, if you’re interested in bonds, you want someone who deals in them regularly and can give an opinion on their direction.

These days, with all the uncertainty in the marketplace, it pays to be aware of the true value of the advice you receive from your broker. Examine how your broker’s recommendations have performed overall. Of course, if the entire market is down it’s not the broker’s fault. But all of these things taken together, should help you select a broker in uncertain times. In fact, they can help you anytime. 

This column is produced by Financial Planning Associates, and is provided by R. Hutton Cobb, a Wachovia Securities financial advisor in Greenville, N.C.