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Financial Advisor, Wealth Advisor, Investment Advisor: What's the Difference?

Once you've decided it’s time to get some professional financial help, you may be asking yourself: “Which type of financial professional is best for me?” From a financial advisor to an investment advisor to a wealth advisor, it’s helpful to know the differences between each category of financial experts before committing to a long-term engagement. According to the CFP Board, “consumer use of financial advisors has increased significantly in the last five years,” going up approximately 10 percent in the span of just five years.

When advisors were surveyed about the benefits of cash flow management and budgeting, nearly 100 percent of them stated that their clients became more confident and secure about their financial futures after utilizing the service.2 However, “consumer use” does not necessarily mean every age group of consumers is jumping on the bandwagon. The Society of Actuaries found that “only 52 percent of pre-retirees and 44 percent of retirees consult a financial planner or advisor.”3  Before you make a final decision, we’ve rounded up some of the key differentiators between each group so you can sign your contract with confidence.


Term #1: Financial Advisor or Financial Planner

The most used term, a financial advisor is someone you helps you with different aspects of your financial life. This might include planning for and transitioning to retirement, investment advice, life insurance, 401(k) plans, IRAs, budgeting and more. Every financial advisor is different in what specific areas they specialize in and what services they provide, so if you are looking for help in one particular area, it is always best to ask.

At Fairpoint Wealth Management, we specialize in helping today's business professionals, working families and high-income earners maximize their finances throughout their careers so that they can achieve an early retirement. Learn more about our financial planning, investment management and retirement planning services.

Financial advisors and planners can be compensated in a variety of ways - they can be fee-based, fee-only, charge a percentage based on your total AUM (assets under management), charge a flat annual fee, or charge hourly for their services.

As fee-only financial advisors, we pride ourselves on putting our clients best interest first. We never sell financial products, receive commissions, kick backs, or referral fees.


Term #2: Investment Advisor

An investment advisor is a professional who focuses on just that - your investments. An investment advisor will manage your portfolio with the goal to get the highest rate of return that you can over the long run. Before they begin designing your portfolio, investment advisors should evaluate your current financial picture, as well as determine your optimal risk tolerance, which may involve you filling out a questionnaire. 

After discussing your needs and goals with your advisor, they typically will then present an investment strategy tailored according to the unique aspects of your life. Some investment advisors actually manage your money and do the investing for you, other simple "advise" on what you should do, leaving you to implement the strategies on your own.

When working with an Investment Advisor, it's important to pay attention to how they are compensated. Investment Advisors (or what used to be known as "Stock Brokers") typically work for large banks, wirehouses or broker-dealers. Many brokers will charge transaction based fees or a percent based on assets under management. Other investment advisors may receive commissions based on the type of mutual fund shares they sell you.


Term #3: Wealth Advisor

With more money comes more responsibility, and wealth advisors’ duties are catered specifically to those who have a decently-sized estate, often labeled as high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Also known as wealth managers, some of the topics wealth advisors cover include risk management and estate planning.

Keep in mind, many firms may categorize their own business under more than one of these labels (they might say they are a "financial advisor" as well as a "wealth advisor". Of course, the best course of action is always to contact any financial professional you are interested in working with directly and learn more about their business model and what services they provide to their clients.


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1 https://www.cfp.net/news-events/latest-news/2015/09/24/survey-americans-use-of-financial-advisors-cfp-professionals-rises-agree-advice-should-be-in-their-best-interest

2 https://www.cfp.net/news-events/latest-news/2019/03/06/new-research-shows-significant-gaps-between-advisor-consumer-views-on-money-management

3 https://www.soa.org/globalassets/assets/Files/Research/research-2014-retire-survey-findings.pdf