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.1

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

The most used term, a financial advisor is someone who 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.

Financial advisors can be compensated in a variety of ways – they can be fee-based, fee-only, or charge a percentage based on your total AUM (assets under management). It is important to note that commission-based salesmen may also use the title of “Financial Advisor”. In order to find out who a financial advisor is serving, take a closer look at the designations he or she may hold such as a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®). Advisors with this designation are required to complete a rigorous curriculum focused on financial planning rather than just getting a regulatory license. Additionally, keep an eye out for the word “fiduciary” which means a financial advisor has a legal obligation of serving his or her clients’ best interests at all times.

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, others simply “advise” on what you should do, leaving you to implement the strategies on your own. Additionally, some financial advisors may perform this same role as a part of their financial planning process.

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.




Investment Advisory Services provided through Smith Bruer Advisors, LLC a Registered Investment Adviser.