Let’s assume you’re in the market to partner with a financial advisor. Finding a good financial advisor who successfully meets your financial needs is comparable to finding the right hair stylist who considers your face shape during haircuts or a dental hygienist who remembers you have sensitive gums. It’s not always an easy process and there will likely be some trial and error before landing on the right one. But once you’ve landed on a few candidates one of the first qualifying questions should be around their compensation structure and whether they are a fee-only financial advisor or fee-based.
First, let’s address the difference between a fee-only financial advisor and fee-based financial advisor. A fee-only financial advisor sets a fee for their services, whereas a fee-based advisor gets paid on commission of what they sell.
Fee-only financial advisors can either set a flat rate fee, hourly rate, or charge a percentage of the assets under management (AUM). This fee is paid directly to the advisor by the client and no additional fees are earned or charged through various products or services in the relationship. Fee-based advisors will typically earn commission on services and products like insurance, mutual funds, and executing trades.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The benefit of using a fee-only financial advisor is that they are obligated to put their clients’ best interests first, being bound legally and ethically to fiduciary standards. This removes the concern that the financial advisor is offering up a product or service solely to earn a commission. Instead, a fee-only advisor makes investment decisions based on their client’s individual financial goals and overall investment strategy.
The most common drawback of opting for fee-only over fee-based is that the advisor may offer a limited array of services or products, requiring you to search elsewhere for things like disability or life insurance. This can be tricky for those with limited time and capacity, but a well connected advisor will likely have recommendations for qualified professionals that can help fill in any service gaps.
Now let’s talk fee-based. The advantage of partnering with a fee-based financial advisor is the exact drawback of opting for a fee-only advisor; they will typically offer more services or products under their umbrella – a one-stop financial shop. However, a glaring downside to this compensation structure is that the advisor has no legal or ethical requirement to do right by their clients, unless acting as a fiduciary. In other words they may offer their clients services that aren’t necessarily the most beneficial or financially rewarding, but they can earn commission from.
It’s important that you have full transparency into the compensation structures before you continue your quest to find a financial advisor.
Where to Find a Fee-Only Financial Advisor
Aside from a quick Google search, there are websites and resources that can help you find a fee-only financial advisor.
National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) allows you to search by zip code or location to find an advisor in your area. You can filter results by distance, markets served, fee structure, and area of focus, like fiduciary financial advisors. Their lookup tool allows you to easily favorite any stand-out advisors and contact them directly through the NAPFA website.
XY Planning Network is another easy to use lookup tool that allows you to search by location, speciality, or any other keyword or name. Results show the individual investment advisor, along with a full bio, credentials, ideal clients, compensation structure and SEC records.
Lastly, Garrett Planning Network boasts a “Find Advisor” tool plus helpful resources on topics like mortgage rates and widow’s penalty.
No matter where or how you found the advisor, one particular detail is crucial as you begin your vetting process – credentials. A Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) both have a fiduciary duty to their clients – again, putting their client’s best interests before their own – so those titles may be a helpful place to start as you vet out non-contenders.
You can also look up any financial advisor’s credentials through Investor.gov, a site managed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. When searching for an advisor, you can get a full report, including their certifications, licenses, experience, and disclosures. This is a good time to weed out any overly concerning fee-only financial advisors that made your short list.
Whether you are just now kicking off your search for a qualified investment advisor or if you are looking to make a change, Prudent Investors is a fee-only, SEC-registered investment advisor providing portfolio management and financial planning services under a fiduciary standard of care. We specialize in asset management for professional fiduciaries, family trustees, and individuals looking to build or optimize their investment strategy and put the needs of our clients first. Being a fee-only group allows us the independence to make sound investment decisions that benefit you and not our bottom line. To chat with any of our advisors we welcome you to connect with us for a quick 30-minute intro meeting or complete our online questionnaire to get started.
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