|Names||Registered Representative, Investment Adviser Representative, Attorney, Insurance Producer, Insurance Agent, Accountant|
|Activity sectors||Financial Services, business|
A financial adviser (or advisor) is a professional who renders financial services to clients. According to the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), terms such as financial adviser and financial planner are general terms or job titles used by investment professionals and do not denote any specific designations. FINRA describes the main groups of investment professionals who may use the term financial advisor to be: brokers, investment advisers, accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and financial planners.
Financial advisors typically provide clients/customers with financial products and services, depending on the licenses they hold and the training they have had. For example, an insurance agent may be qualified to sell both life insurance and variable annuities. A broker may also be a financial planner. Put simply, a financial advisor is a financial products salesperson.
A financial advisor is generally compensated through fees, commissions, or a combination of both. For example, a financial advisor may be compensated in one or more of the following ways:
- An hourly fee for advisory services
- A flat fee, such as $500 per year, for an annual portfolio review or $2,000 for a financial plan
- A commission on the securities bought or sold, such as $12 per trade
- A commission (sometimes called a “load”) based on the amount invested in a mutual fund or variable annuity
- A “mark-up”: when one buys “house” products (such as bonds that the broker holds in inventory), or a “mark-down” when they are sold
- A fee for assets under management, such as 1% annually of assets managed
Advisor vs. adviser
Both spellings, advisor and adviser, are grammatically correct and denote someone who provides advice. Some sources suggest that adviser refers to anyone who gives advice, while advisor refers to one who is specifically tasked to provide advice. According to one textbook, adviser and advisor are not interchangeable in the financial services industry, since the term adviser is generally used "when referring to legislative acts and their requirements and advisor when referring to a practitioner. Since [a financial advisor's practice] is never described as an advisery practice, advisor is preferable when not referencing the law."
In the United States, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulates and oversees the activities of brokerage firms, and their registered representatives. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates investment advisers and their investment adviser representatives. Insurance companies, insurance agencies and insurance producers are regulated by state authorities. Investment Advisors may be registered with state regulatory agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or pursuant to certain exemptions, remain unregistered.
The anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and most state laws impose a duty on IAs to act as fiduciaries in dealings with their clients. This means the adviser must hold the client's interest above its own in all matters. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has said that an adviser has a duty to:
- Make reasonable investment recommendations independent of outside influences
- Select broker-dealers based on their ability to provide the best execution of trades for accounts where the adviser has authority to select the broker-dealer.
- Make recommendations based on a reasonable inquiry into a client's investment objectives, financial situation, and other factors
- Always place client interests ahead of its own.
Since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been great debate regarding the fiduciary standard and to which advisors it should apply. In July 2010, The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated increased consumer protection measures, including enhanced disclosures and authorized the SEC to extend the fiduciary duty to include brokers rather than only advisors regulated by the 1940 Act. As of March 2013, the SEC has yet to extend the fiduciary duty to all brokers and advisors regardless of their designation. Opposition to the fiduciary standard maintains that the higher standard of fiduciary duty, vs the lower standard of suitability, would be too costly to implement and reduce choice for consumers.
A Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) refers to an IA that is registered with the SEC or a state's securities agency and typically provides investment advice to a retail investor or registered investment company such as a mutual fund, or exchange-traded fund. Registration does not signify that the SEC has passed on the merit of a particular IA. Regulation is fragmented in that some registered investment advisors are regulated by the individual states, while others are regulated federally by the SEC.
An Unregistered Investment Adviser refers to an IA that is not registered with the SEC or a state's securities agency and typically provides investment advice to private pools of capital. Such an investment pool is commonly known as a hedge fund or a private equity fund.
The financial advisor role in Canada is varied. Most financial advisors carry licenses to sell life insurance, securities, or mutual funds, or some combination of all three. The life insurance license is obtained through successful completion of the life license qualification program, except in Quebec, where licensing is completed through the Autorité des marchés financiers. There are three distinct securities licenses available. Completion of the Canadian Securities Course allows the sale of most types of securities, including stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. More advanced licensing is required for the sale of derivatives and commodities. Completion of a mutual funds course allows the adviser to sell mutual funds only, excluding certain types of very specialized funds and importantly, exchange-traded funds (ETFs)—although recently non-securities licensed financial advisors have gained access to ETFs through new mutual fund products. The third possible license is the exempt securities license.
In many, but not all, cases, licensing requires the support of a dealer or insurer. It is also mandatory for advisors to carry Errors and Omissions Insurance. The term financial advisor can refer to the entire spectrum of advisers. In general, the industry in Canada is segmented into three channels of advisers: MGA, MFDA and IIROC. However, there is little regulatory control exercised over use of the term, and, as such, many insurance brokers, insurance agents, securities brokers, financial planners and others identify themselves as financial advisors.
Many financial advisors in Canada are also financial planners. While there are numerous financial planning designations, the most common is the Certified Financial Planner designation although the Personal Financial Planner designation is also popular in Canada. There is no regulation, outside of Quebec, of the term "Financial Planner".
There are three main bodies awarding qualifications for financial advisers in the UK. The main one is the Chartered Insurance Institute, which offers professional financial services qualifications all the way from beginner to degree levels. The IFS School of Finance offers alternative courses/qualifications in certain specialist areas such as mortgages and equity release. The Institute of Financial Planning offers the Certified Financial Planner.
Financial advisers need to pass a series of exams and receive a Certificate in Financial Planning (previously the Financial Planning Certificate) or the Certificate for Financial Advisers, and also authorized by the Financial Services Authority, a UK government qango that must be satisfied that the adviser is a “fit and proper person” before they may practice. This is to be replaced in December 2012 with a new standard of qualification classed as Diploma and all existing advisers will have to attain the new qualifications to be able to continue to give advice in future. Typically a diploma or higher qualified adviser will have Dip FA or Dip PFS after their name.
The title Chartered Financial Planner is the most widely accepted "gold standard" qualification available for professional financial planners/ financial advisers in the United Kingdom. Financial advisers are either tied, restricted or independent, and as the classifications suggest, tied advisers can only recommend 'financial products' marketed by the company they represent. Typically that company employs them but in some cases they work for that organisation under a type of self-employed contract that usually precludes other paid work. Restricted advisers perform a similar role, except they represent a number of different companies or do not advise on the whole of the market (for example choosing not to recommend certain structures of investment would make an adviser "resticted"). An Independent Financial Advisor must offer advice on all 'financial products' on the market (which carry commission) and, in addition, must offer clients the choice of paying a fee for advice about a product or products, rather than being remunerated commission from the financial institution that is promoting the product.
Best advice is a concept that was never more than a heading in the FSA/PIA/NASDIM regulations (and is now withdrawn in favour of the 'appropriate' standard) and which refers to the general obligation under Contract Law (Agency) that a broker has to find the correct 'financial product' to match a client 'need'. A provider firm must not make a recommendation unless it has a suitable product to offer. If it offers no suitable products then none should be recommended. A multi-tied firm must not make any recommendations unless it has access to a suitable product from the providers on their panel. In the UK many believe impartial advice can be obtained only by consulting an independent financial adviser.
Republic of Ireland
The QFA ("qualified financial advisor") designation is awarded to those who pass the Professional Diploma in Financial Advice and agree to comply with the ongoing "continuous professional development" (CPD) requirements. It is the recognised benchmark designation for financial advisers working in retail financial services. The qualification, and attaching CPD programme, meets the "minimum competency requirements" (MCR) specified by the Financial Regulator, for advising on and selling five categories of retail financial products:
- Savings, investments and pensions
- Housing loans and associated insurances
- Consumer credit and associated insurances
- Shares, bonds and other investment instruments
- Life assurance protection policies
The National Certificate in Financial Services [Financial Advice] [Level 5] is currently being introduced in New Zealand. All Individuates and registered legal entities providing financial services must be registered as a (Registered Financial Service Provider). Their Directors, retail and sales staff are required to gain the national certificate.
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) in conjunction with industry groups via the ETITO administers a qualifications frame work for the qualification. Registrations and examinations are conducted by the ETITO. All financial advisers are required to register with the ETITO by March 31, 2011.
The Qualifications Framework consists of a core set of competencies sets, A B C followed by 2 electives covering specialist areas such as Insurance and Residential Property Lending. Certain NZQA approved qualifications such as an Accountancy degree may exempt students from competency set A NZQA approved training. The certificate is offered by the accredited organizations.
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