Due Diligence

There are Three Main Types of “Financial Advisors”:

Broker-Dealers (B-D)

B-Ds are self-regulated firms and their representatives who sell financial products or otherwise affect the trading in securities for some sort of commission or markup.  Use FINRA's BrokerCheck® to check the background of both a B-D Firm and an individual broker salesperson.  Here you will want to pay special attention to:

  • Experience of not only where employed, but what the advisor actually did in current and past roles
  • Customer complaints and how they were settled
  • Exams passed – Knowing which Series exams have been passed isn’t actually very helpful.  You’re better off looking for the more advanced certifications of CFA, CPA, and CFP®.  Be careful here!  Folks string all sorts of credentialling behind their names, but these are the main ones to look for.

Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)

RIAs are firms regulated by either the state or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), depending on firm size.  RIAs will charge some sort of fee for service, whether directly, indirectly, or both.  You can review an RIA firm or Advisor using the SEC’s advisor search tool.  Here you’ll want to pay special attention to the RIA’s Form ADV Part 2.  Within the Form ADV Part 2 be sure to review:

    • Fee structure – Total fees and conflicts can be difficult to ferret out, so look carefully!
    • Investment philosophy
    • Services
    • Affiliations
    • Education
    • Certifications
    • Experience
    • Event disclosures

Insurance Producers

Insurance Producers are regulated by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in your state.  Producers sell all sorts of insurance including annuities, long term care, life, auto, home, and any other insurance related products.

An insurance producer might have a local office providing general insurance with or without available investment options as a sort of side gig.

An insurance producer might focus on coverages such as long term care, disablity, life, and/or annuities.

If an insurance-type product is what you need, an insurance producer will be involved.

Some "Advisors" are Dually Registered

as both a B-D and an RIA.  Others might even have an insurance producer license to boot.  Multi-registration creates the situation of not knowing which “hat” the advisor actually has on at any given moment.

Be Sure Not to Confuse "Fee-Only" with "Fee-Based.”

Fee-based financial advisors are somewhat like fee-only advisors, but fee-based advisors can and do receive additional commissions from product sales.  These arrangements create conflicts-of-interest difficult to ignore.  Make no mistake, how a person gets paid will affect the advice they give.

Commencement Financial Planning LLC is a Fee-Only Registered Investment Advisor

with the Washington Department of Financial Institutions and a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).  A Fee-Only RIA with the education, credentials, and experience necessary to assist individuals and their families to manage their financial affairs in a comprehensive, objective, thoughtful, and prudent manner.

For more information about what to look for in an advisor, check out NAPFA's Consumer Resources page and the SEC's Top Tips for Selecting a Financial Professional..

“If I have noticed anything over these 60 years on Wall Street, it is that people do not succeed in forecasting what’s going to happen to the stock market.”
Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor

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