Ah, the world of financial planning, where the titles are a-plenty and the confusion is real. Financial advisor, financial planner, wealth manager—sounds like a game of Mad Libs! But in all seriousness, choosing the right advisor can be a daunting task. How can you be sure you’re getting honest advice and working toward your financial goals?
Here’s the thing: those fancy titles don’t necessarily guarantee anything about the quality of advice you’re getting. It’s like judging a book by its cover, or a person by their Instagram profile. Instead of getting hung up on titles, there’s one crucial question to ask: “Are you a fiduciary?”
If your advisor stumbles over their words or looks at you like a deer in headlights, it’s time to reconsider. But if they answer confidently and proudly, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they’re held to a higher standard and have your greatest interests at heart.
What Do These Different Titles Mean?
If you’ve ever researched financial advisors, you may have noticed there are many different types of advisors from which to choose. Some of the most common types of financial advisors are brokers, fee-only fiduciaries, and independent financial advisors. It’s important to know the standards each type of advisor is held to as you’re deciding who to hire.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Brokers manage your portfolio but also sell financial products such as mutual funds or insurance policies, for which they earn a commission. They are not held to a fiduciary standard, so they may not always act in your best interest.
- Fee-only fiduciaries may charge a flat fee, or a percentage of your portfolio, but they are always held to a fiduciary standard, in which they are required to act in your best interest.
- Independent financial advisors have started their own financial firm. Most independent advisors act as fee-only fiduciaries, but some may act as fee-based advisors and sell additional financial products on a commission basis.
What Exactly Is a Fiduciary?
In general terms, a fiduciary is a person or entity who has the power to act for another in situations that require complete trust. When it comes to the financial industry, financial advisors who work for a Registered Investment Advisor firm must always act as a fiduciary for their clients. By law, a fiduciary advisor must be completely transparent and always act in their clients’ best interest. They are also obligated to avoid and disclose any potential conflicts of interest.
Additionally, the ongoing services and investment monitoring they provide also falls under the fiduciary duty. In other words, their job doesn’t end after the initial meeting or purchase. They must regularly review your accounts to help align your investments with your best interest.
There are financial professionals whose services do not fall under the fiduciary standard. This doesn’t mean that they are out to steal your money and can never be trusted—far from it. These financial professionals who register with FINRA are held to a standard known as Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). This is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t take things as far as the fiduciary standard for Financial Advisors who work for a Registered Investment Advisor firm that registers directly with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
What Does it Mean to Work With a Fiduciary?
There are several benefits to working with an advisor who serves in a fiduciary capacity. For one, they are open and transparent. Aside from the obvious goal of maximizing value for your money, working with a fiduciary can give you confidence that your advisor is working in your best interests rather than their own. They’ll give you their true, professional opinion (even if it’s not the answer you want to hear). This is extremely valuable when you’re facing a big life decision, whether it’s purchasing a second home, transitioning into consulting work, or retiring earlier than anticipated. Reviewing your entire financial picture, an advisor can show you the impact a decision may have on your future and how you can pursue certain goals.
By working with an advisor who holds to the fiduciary standard, you can be confident in your financial future. Clients have the power to ask questions and to demand the highest value for the service that advisors are providing. As a Registered Investment Advisor firm, we understand people’s reservations or even negative connotations toward the underlying motivations of some advisors. We want to assure you that you can trust in the fact that our relationship with you is built on integrity and putting your interests above our own.
A Holistic Approach
Independent, fiduciary advisors do so much more than just pick your stocks. Working with an experienced financial specialist can be a realistic sounding board to help provide you with a litmus test when you have questions or face a big financial decision. They actively coordinate the accumulation, distribution, and transfer of your wealth, as well as the estate, tax, and financial planning areas of your retirement plan. An advisor who looks at the big picture of your financial life can help you optimize income and mitigate taxes in retirement.
For example, this type of advisor helps you create a retirement income plan that strategizes when you take your withdrawals and what accounts you take them from first; not to mention, they also design a Social Security strategy that optimizes your benefits, manages Medicare confiscation, and addresses long-term care so you can feel confident that you’re on the right track as you pursue your long-term goals. The objective advice of an independent fiduciary advisor can make an incredible impact on your financial situation in retirement.
Do I Really Need a Fiduciary?
Well, there you have it, folks—the answer to the age-old question of whether or not you should work with a fiduciary wealth advisor is a resounding YES!
AtT.M. Wealth Management, we take our role as fiduciaries seriously. We don’t just manage your money; we work with you to create acustomized plan that aligns with your unique circumstances, goals, and risk tolerance.
And the exciting part? We don’t have any ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Unlike those big brokerages and wirehouses, we’re not paid by commission or tied to any specific investment approach or products. We’re like the Switzerland of the financial world—neutral, objective, and here to serve you.
So, if you’re ready totake control of your finances and work with a team that truly has your greatest interests at heart, send us an email at email@example.com or give us a call at (703) 537-8351. We're always here to help!
Thomas R. Seneca is Managing Partner at T.M. Wealth Management, a wealth management firm that focuses on independent, boutique, and fiduciary services for clients. After gaining extensive finance and investment experience working as an investment banker on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, Thomas had a desire to work more closely with clients and positively impact their lives by helping them make better financial decisions. He started his own practice and now works with successful professionals to help them simplify their financial needs and optimize their wealth to pursue their goals. Thomas knows the positive impact that good financial decisions can have on families and individuals, and he strives to help give clients financial confidence so they can spend their time on what matters most to them.
Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Thomas is an avid golfer, fluent in Spanish, and served as an adjunct finance professor at Virginia International University in the Washington, D.C., area. Outside of work, he enjoys traveling, spending time with family, and attending church. To learn more about Thomas, connect with him onLinkedIn.