|Names||Registered Representative, Investment Adviser Representative, Attorney, Insurance Producer, Insurance Agent, Accountant|
|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. FINRA describes the main groups of investment professionals who may use the term financial adviser to be: brokers, investment advisers, accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and financial planners.
Financial advisers 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. A financial adviser may create financial plans for clients or sell financial products, or a combination of both.
A financial adviser is generally compensated through fees, commissions, or a combination of both. For example, a financial adviser may be compensated in one or more of the following ways:
- An hourly fee for advisory services
- A flat fee, such as $3,500 per year, for an annual portfolio review or $5,000 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 accepted and denote someone who provides 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." Congress and the Securities Exchange Commission refer to "investment advisers" when discussing regulation of them in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
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 Advisers 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 advisers 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 advisers regulated by the 1940 Act. As of July 2016, the SEC has yet to extend the fiduciary duty to all brokers and advisers regardless of their designation. However, in April 2016, the Department of Labor finalized a thousand-page rule holding all brokers, including independent brokers, working with retirement accounts (IRAs, 401ks, etc.) to the fiduciary standard.
In June 2016, as way to address adviser conflicts of interest, the Department of Labor (DOL) ruled in a redefinition of what constitutes financial advice, and who is considered a fiduciary. Prior to 2016, fiduciary standards only applied to Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs), and did not impact brokers, who previously operated under a less strict “suitability” standard that provided leeway to provide education without “advice.” The new ruling includes brokers with RIA, which requires all financial advisers to act as fiduciaries and meet the fiduciary standard. The ruling includes one exemption for brokers, Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE), which can be allowed if the broker enters into a contract with the plan participant and meets certain behavioral requirements.
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.
The decision has caused a massive shift in the financial community with 73% of advisors concerned the rule will have an adverse impact on how they do business, 71% anticipating increased client frustration and 66% planning to reevaluate the products they recommend. 
A Registered Investment Adviser (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 advisers are regulated by the individual states, while others are regulated federally by the SEC.
The financial adviser role in Canada is varied. Most financial advisers 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 (CSC) 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 advisers 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 advisers to carry Errors and Omissions Insurance. The term financial adviser 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 advisers.
Many financial advisers 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".
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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 Diploma in Financial Planning (or, prior to the Retail Distribution Review, a Financial Planning Certificate) and also authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, a UK government qango that must be satisfied that the adviser is a “fit and proper person” before they may practice. Typically a diploma qualified adviser will have DipFA or DipPFS 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 restricted or independent. An independent financial adviser is free to select a suitable solution for the client from all the products and providers in the market. An adviser that is not free to select from the entire market, for whatever reason, is restricted. An adviser may be restricted because they only advise on a specific area, for example pensions, or because they only advise on products from one company such as a bank.
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.
For a comprehensive application of Australian fiduciary law to the Australian financial advice industry see "Fiduciary Relationships in a Commercial Context" by J. C. Campbell.
One-off share portfolio advice was launched by CommSec in 2012. Richard Hadfield is commonly regarded to be the sole inventor and implementer of the concept, and had laid claim to all subsequent glory associated with its success.
- "Understanding Professional Designations". FINRA. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- "Selecting Investment Professionals". FINRA. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- "Investor Bulletin: Top Tips for Selecting a Financial Professional" (PDF). SEC: Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
- Taylor, Don (2005). C. Bruce Worsham, ed. Financial Planning: Process and Environment. Bryn Mawr, PA: The American College Press. p. 9.3. ISBN 1-932819-08-8.
- "Investment Adviser Guide". NASAA. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- Any account designated as a qualified retirement plan under ERISA
- "Fact Sheet: DOL Finalizes Rule to Address Conflicts of Interest in Retirement Advice, Saving Middle Class Families Billions of Dollars Every Year". www.dol.gov. Retrieved 2016-07-27.
- Menickella, Brian. "How The DOL's Fiduciary Rule Will Impact Your Retirement Accounts". Retrieved 2016-07-27.
- "Making the DoL Fiduciary Rule Work For Your Marketing".
- "From Stock Broker To Fee Only Planner". Registered-Investment-Advisor. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Autorité des marchés financiers". Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- "PLANNING ADVOCATES PUSH PROFESSIONALISM". ADVISOR.CA. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Who is The Skills Organisation?". The Skills Organisation. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Financial advice | MoneySmart by ASIC". Moneysmart.gov.au. 2013-07-01. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
- "Supreme Court New South Wales" (PDF). Justice.nsw.gov.au. 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
- AIFA Association of Independent Financial Advisers - UK Trade body
- FCA website Financial Conduct Authority (UK)
- NAIFA National Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors
- SEC IA Search SEC Database of US Registered Investment Advisers
- €FPA €uropean Financial Planning Association
- FMG Suite Guide to help financial advisors identify what the fiduciary rule means for them