Review of Carson Wealth Management

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Updated on Thursday, January 23, 2020

Carson Wealth is one of a number of business names used by the investment advisory firm registered with the SEC as CWM, LLC. The main focus of the firm is to manage investment portfolios for individuals and high net worth families, as well as some foundations, endowments and institutions. The firm also offers retirement plan services for employers, as well as some financial planning for individuals. With more than 100 affiliated offices nationwide, CWM employs more than 300 people and works with many independent contractors. It currently has more than $7.5 billion in assets under management (AUM).

All information included in this profile is accurate as of January 21st, 2020. For more information, please consult Carson Wealth Management’s website.

Assets under management: $7,502,978,872
Minimum investment: Varies based on investing program
Fee structure: A percentage of AUM; hourly fees; fixed fees
Headquarters:13321 California Street
Omaha, NE 68154

Overview of Carson Wealth

The firm’s roots go back to 1983, when Ron Carson started the independent advisory firm Carson Wealth in Omaha, Neb. CWM, LLC was formed in 2010, and has since grown to manage more than $7.5 billion.

Today, CWM, LLC has about 20 offices nationwide under the Carson Wealth branding, as well as a network of nearly 100 additional partner offices that do business under their own branding and ownership but tap the company’s resources for research, technology, marketing, operations and compliance, among other areas. The Carson Group, another division of the company, offers coaching to other financial advisors.

Carson Wealth Management has more than 300 employees, about 200 of whom perform investment advisory functions including research. Their specialties include proprietary model portfolios; insurance and annuities; and employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Ron Carson, who is the CEO of CWM, LLC, is the majority shareholder of the firm’s parent company, Carson Group Holdings. He has written many books on financial planning and wealth, including “Tested in the Trenches,” “Avalanche” and “The Sustainable Edge,” and also frequently contributes to CNBC.

What types of clients does Carson Wealth serve?

The firm’s clients include mostly individuals and high net worth families, though it also serves pension and profit-sharing plans; insurance companies and other corporations; trusts and estates; 401(k) sponsors; and others.

The minimum amount of assets needed to work with the firm varies depending on the type of investing program selected. For instance, the minimum investment for a managed account with the firm typically starts at $10,000, though exceptions exist. The specific strategy portfolios have their own minimum investments, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 on the low end, up to $250,000 on the high end. For example, the Advance & Protect Strategy, which aims for capital preservation over appreciation, requires a $100,000 investment for a minimum of three years. On the other hand, the Diversified Growth strategy, which consists mostly of no-transaction fee mutual funds, can be opened with an investment of just $1,000.

Services offered by Carson Wealth

The main focus of Carson Wealth is to manage its clients’ investment portfolios on a discretionary basis, meaning the firm makes all decisions to buy, sell or hold securities without needing to first consult the client. There’s the option to add on more robust financial planning services and an analysis of your financial situation through the True Wealth Plan, which also advises on retirement, education, long-term care, estate and insurance needs. Tax services are offered separately by a team of certified public accountants in the Carson Wealth Tax Planning division.

About half of the company’s employees are also licensed to sell life and disability insurance, so be prepared to be pitched variable life and annuity products. The firm also advises employers on employer-sponsored retirement plans.

Here is a list of services offered at CWM, LLC:

  • Investment advisory services and portfolio management (separately managed or wrap fee accounts)
  • Financial planning
    • Retirement planning
    • Trust and estate planning
    • Education planning
    • Tax planning and management
    • Cash flow forecasting
    • Long-term care planning
    • IRA and 401(k) rollovers
  • Insurance/risk management
  • Employee benefit plan fiduciary services and 401(k) consulting
  • Workshops and seminars
  • Newsletters and publications

How Carson Wealth invests your money

The firm allocates client money across more than 70 model portfolios, which typically include a diverse mix of securities. Each portfolio has a specific goal, such as minimizing losses, generating income, achieving growth or diversifying through alternatives. The firm also offers sustainable funds for investors focused on environmental, social and governance factors. Based on your objectives, risk tolerance and time horizon, your investment advisor representative, who could be a Carson employee or an independent contractor, will create your recommended asset allocation across these strategies.

To create and manage model portfolios, the investment committee uses a combination of three methods of analysis: fundamental analysis, technical analysis and charting. Fundamental analysis attempts to determine a security’s intrinsic value by studying everything that can affect its value, while technical analysis looks at statistics, such as prices and volume, and uses charts and tools to identify patterns that may suggest future activity. Charting is used to plot key factors, such as price movements and volume, to anticipate future movement. The firm may trade frequently and buy options contracts granting the right to buy or sell a security, such as a stock, at a fixed price in the future.

For unique investment strategies, the investment committee taps the knowledge of outside advisors. A few model portfolios are managed by unaffiliated groups. Alternatively, advisors may directly manage client assets in separately managed accounts outside of these model portfolios when it’s deemed to be in the best interest of the client.

Fees Carson Wealth charges for its services

Portfolio management fees

To manage your portfolio, the firm charges an annual fee based on a percentage of the value of your portfolio. The rate you’ll pay is negotiable and depends on a number of factors, including your advisor, the value of your portfolio, your investments, the complexity of your portfolio, your financial situation, the level of trading activity in your portfolio, anticipated future assets and additional services requested. Note that your rate may vary from advisor to advisor even if the services provided are the same. The maximum rate you’ll pay is 2.50%.

In addition to an asset-based fee, you’ll also pay certain transaction charges for trades if you open a traditional brokerage account. Alternatively, you can elect to open a wrap account that bundles your management and transaction costs under one fee. The wrap account fee is typically higher than a traditional brokerage account since it covers transaction fees, but when trading in your account is very heavy your total cost can be less.

Financial planning fees

For financial planning, you’ll pay an hourly fee that ranges up to a maximum of $500 per hour. Carson Wealth will provide you an estimate of how many hours it expects to spend on your planning services. Alternatively, you can pay a fixed fee, which typically ranges from $500 to $25,000 or more depending on the complexity of the engagement.

Another option is to buy a True Wealth Plan, which charges a one-time fee of 0.20% of the financial plan’s total assets, with a minimum fee of $3,500. This plan analyzes retirement, education, long-term care needs, estates, life and disability and planning for major purchases. The fee can be reduced if you transfer assets to Carson Wealth Management for advisory services within six months of the plan.

Variable and annuity life contract fees

For variable annuity and variable life contracts under the management of Carson Wealth, you’ll also pay an annual investment advisory fee which will not exceed 2%. The insurance companies issuing your variable annuity and variable life contracts will charge management expenses in addition to the Carson Wealth investment advisory fee.

Before you pay any fees, you’ll receive an Investment Advisory Agreement to sign that will list the specific fees you’ll owe. Your fees will be directly debited from your account.

Carson Wealth’s highlights

  • National recognition for long track record: Founder Ron Carson was inducted into the Barron’s Hall of Fame in 2014 for appearing on their list of top 100 advisors for 10 consecutive years. More recently, the larger Carson Group firm ranked ninth on Barrons 2019 list of Best Registered Investment Advisors based on assets, revenue and quality of practice.
  • A low account minimum: No need for a six-figure portfolio to start working with a Carson Wealth Management advisor, which can be the case at many financial advisory firms. Though the exact account minimum required will depend on the investing program, the firm’s strategy programs have minimums as low as $1,000 to $5,000 and the minimum investment required for a managed account is typically $10,000.
  • Broad choice of strategies and portfolios: The firm offers more than 70 model portfolios managed directly by Carson Wealth, providing a diverse group of strategies and interests, including sustainable funds for investors focused on environmental, social and governance characteristics. To round out its offerings, the firm also offers portfolios and alternative investments managed by others.
  • Nationwide presence: The firm has been working to grow its affiliate offices around the country, and today it has a network of nearly 100 partner offices nationwide, plus about 20 offices branded under Carson Wealth. Keep in mind that each partner office typically has its own name and founders.

Carson Wealth’s downsides

  • No standardized fee schedule: Your investment management fees can vary depending on what office or advisor representative you choose, even when requesting the exact same service. Thus, there is no published fee schedule you can reference beforehand to determine if the firm is a good fit for you and compare rates with other firms. Carson Wealth’s maximum rate of 2.50% is high in comparison to the national average rate of 1.17%, but your fee could be much lower, though you won’t know for sure until you start working with the firm.
  • Advisors may sell other products or services: Many advisor representatives are also registered representatives of other firms, so they can earn commissions from selling you products and services outside of investment advice, such as variable annuities, disability or other insurance products. Carson Wealth also receives referral compensation from certain firms, such as broker-dealers, when you move your money to those firms. These outside financial interests could incentivize advisors to make decisions that are in their best financial interests, rather than those of the client.
  • Allows investors to borrow against their account: CWM has entered into an agreement with a company called Supernova that allows you to put up some or all of your portfolio as collateral to obtain a line of credit. While it may sound enticing, you’ll pay interest on the credit line, plus getting into the habit of raiding your investments and savings will prevent you from reaching your long-term financial goals. Additionally, CWM is indirectly compensated through its relationship with Supernova, which could create a conflict of interest as the company has a financial incentive for clients to get a line of credit.
  • May share your information for marketing purposes: Your investment advisor collects personal information about you in order to service your account. That information isn’t sold, but may be shared with affiliates of the company to market other products or services to you. However, you can fill out a form the company provides to limit your advisor from disclosing your information if they leave the firm.

Carson Wealth disciplinary disclosures

All registered investment advisors are required to disclose any legal, regulatory or criminal event that is material to how a client evaluates the business or the integrity of the management team in their Form ADV, paperwork filed with the SEC. Carson Wealth Management has disclosed no such events over the past 10 years.

Carson Wealth onboarding process

If you’d like a local office in your area for face to face meetings, use the firm’s search tool to see if there is an affiliated office in your area. You can also connect with the firm by filling out the contact form provided on its website, which requests your name, email address, phone number and a brief message.

If you decide to sign on with Carson Wealth, you will work with an investment advisor representative, who may be an employee of Carson Wealth or an independent contractor working under their own branding. During your initial meeting, you’ll be asked to fill out a client profile with information about your risk tolerance and financial goals to help your advisor craft your specific asset allocation strategy. You should update your information regularly, at least every two years.

You will meet with your advisor by phone or in person at least annually to review your account and make any changes to your financial profile.

Is Carson Wealth right for you?

Carson Wealth Management targets mostly individuals and high net worth families, providing portfolio management using its diverse group of strategies. A much smaller number of clients pay for robust financial planning advice. The firm’s large nationwide network of partner offices and low account minimums make it accessible for a wide range of investors.

Be aware that advisors, many of whom are affiliated with CMW as well as other firms, can sell products and services — particularly insurance and variable annuities — in exchange for commissions and referral fees. Always ask your advisor how they earn money outside of the fees that you pay. As with all financial relationships, it’s your job to make sure you end up with an advisor relationship that’s in your best interest.