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What are investment advisers?
Investment advisers are in the business of giving advice about securities to clients. For instance, if they receive compensation for giving advice to a specific person on investing in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, they 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.
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 $25 million or more in client assets must register with the SEC. If they manage less than $25 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 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.
The ADV consists of two parts. Part I contains information about the adviser's education, business, and whether they've had problems with regulators or clients. Part II 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 the ADV. If an investment adviser won't give you Part I of the ADV, don't do business with them.
You can get copies of Form ADVs 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 Web site 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.
If the SEC registers the investment adviser, you can get the Form ADV at a cost of 24 cents per page (plus tax and postage) from the SEC at
While some investment advisers and financial planners have credentials like CFP (certified financial planner) or CFA (chartered financial analyst), they are not required to by federal or state laws. Unlike federally registered advisers, many states do require their advisers and representatives 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.