The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) receives many questions about investment advisers—what they are and how to go about choosing one. This document answers some of the typical questions we receive from investors about investment advisers. This Q&A is for the benefit of investors. You should not rely on it to determine if you need to register as an investment adviser.
An investment adviser is an individual or a firm that is in the business of giving advice about securities to clients. For instance, individuals or firms that receive compensation for giving advice on investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or exchange traded funds are investment advisers. Some investment advisers manage portfolios of securities
Most financial planners are investment advisers, but not all investment advisers are financial planners. Some financial planners assess every aspect of your financial life—including saving, investments, insurance, taxes, retirement, and estate planning—and help you develop a detailed strategy or financial plan for meeting all your financial goals.
Others call themselves financial planners, but they may only be able to recommend that you invest in a narrow range of products, and sometimes products that aren’t securities.
Before you hire any financial professional, you should know exactly what services you need, what services the professional can deliver, any limitations on what they can recommend, what services you’re paying for, how much those services cost, and how the adviser or planner gets paid.
Here are some of the questions you should always ask when hiring any financial professional:
Be sure to meet potential advisers “face to face” to make sure you get along. And remember: there are many types of individuals who can help you develop a personal financial plan and manage your hard–earned money. The most important thing is that you know your financial goals, have a plan in place, and check out the professional you chose with your securities regulator.
Before you hire any financial professional—whether it’s a stockbroker, a financial planner, or an investment adviser—you should always find out and make sure you understand how that person gets paid. Investment advisers generally are paid in any of the following ways:
Each compensation method has potential benefits and possible drawbacks, depending on your individual needs. Ask the investment advisers you interview to explain the differences to you before you do business with them, and get several opinions before making your decision. Also ask if the fee is negotiable.
Depending on their size, investment advisers have to register with either the SEC or the state securities agency where they have their principal place of business. For the most part, investment advisers who manage $100 million or more in client assets must register with the SEC. If they manage less than $100 million, they must register with the state securities agency in the state where they have their principal place of business.
Most investment advisers must fill out a form called “Form ADV.” They must file their Form ADVs with either the SEC or the state securities agency in the state where they have their principal place of business, depending on the amount of assets they manage.
Form ADV consists of two parts. Part 1 contains information about the adviser’s business and whether they’ve had problems with regulators or clients. Part 2 outlines the adviser’s services, fees, and strategies. Before you hire someone to be your investment adviser, always ask for, and carefully read, both parts of Form ADV.
You can get copies of Form ADV from the investment adviser, your state securities regulator or the SEC, depending on the size of the adviser. You can find out how to get in touch with your state securities regulator through the North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc.’s (NASAA) website or by calling (202) 737-0900. Ask your state securities regulator whether they’ve had any complaints about the adviser, and ask them to check the CRD (Central Registration Depository).
If the SEC registers the investment adviser, you can get a copy of the Form ADV by accessing How to Request Public Documents. In addition, at the SEC’s headquarters you can visit our Public Reference Room from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to obtain copies of SEC records and documents.
If the professional you’re considering claims to be a CFP® certificant, you should also visit the website of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFB Board) to see if the professional is, in fact, certified as a CFP® professional and whether the professional’s certification has been suspended or revoked by the CFP Board. You can also call the CFP Board at (888) 237-6275 to obtain other disciplinary information about the professional.
While some investment advisers and financial planners have credentials — such as CFP® certification or CFA (chartered financial analyst) — no state or federal law requires these credentials. Many states require advisers to pass a proficiency exam or meet other requirements.
Investment advisers and financial planners may come from many different educational and professional backgrounds. Before you hire a financial professional, be sure to ask about their background. If they have a credential, ask them what it means and what they had to do to earn it. Also, find out what organization issued the credential, and then contact the organization to verify whether the professional you’re considering did, in fact, earn the credential and whether the professional remains in good standing with the organization. For information on various financial professional credentials and the entities that issue them, please visit FINRA’s website and read Understanding Financial Professional Designations.