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Read our articles that guide you through every step of the financial advisor process.

Robo-Advisor vs. Financial Advisor

In this age of technology and convenience, robo-advisors have become many investors’ go-to when it comes to asset management. Robo-advisors are online investment management systems, often heavily mobile and app-based. They take an automated approach to investing, and most often don’t offer human involvement, instead allowing their algorithms to do the work. Robo-advisors also generally charge lower fees and have lower minimum asset requirements.

Financial advisors, on the other hand, offer a traditional relationship with a professional who personally manages your portfolio. Some may also help you manage other aspects of your finances, too. Financial advisors can offer a higher level of personalization, though you’ll generally face higher costs for that added customization.

You can’t go wrong with either, but use this page as a resource to find the right one for you.

Robo-Advisor Financial Advisor
Digital, automated advising Online or in-person advising with a human
Typically lower fees Typically higher fees
Low to no minimum balance requirements Higher minimum investment requirements
Automatic asset allocation based on your risk tolerance Personalized, human-led asset management
Model portfolios based on questionnaires Personalized portfolios with greater input and guidance
Account offerings may be limited Wider range of account offerings depending on goals and preferences

Financial Advisor Reviews 2024

Although financial advisors are usually local, check out our picks for these financial advisors that operate in most states.

Financial Advisor Basics

When you may need financial advice

Consider hiring a financial advisor if you are:

  • Overwhelmed by a great sum of money and assets  
  • Balancing several financial obligations at once 
  • Inexperienced with investments 
  • Going through a pivotal life moment or big financial changes
  • Planning for retirement 
  • Interested in investing
  • Looking to set up a successful financial future

Financial advisors regularly seek to help their clients meet their financial goals by offering a variety of services like:

  • Asset management 
  • Portfolio management 
  • Investment advice 
  • Retirement planning 
  • Charitable contribution planning
  • Real estate management 
  • Estate planning 
  • College expense planning
  • Debt management and repayment 
  • Insurance planning 
  • Tax planning 
  • And more (depending on client needs and advisor specializations)
  • Investment advisors provide securities and investment advice to clients, as well as asset management. Registered investment advisors (RIAs) must be licensed by their state and/or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  • Financial planners help you create a comprehensive financial plan at every stage of life. This can include tax preparedness, cash flow management, retirement planning, estate planning, college savings, debt reduction and more. Many financial planners can specialize in one of these areas or more, such as an estate planner.
  • Wealth managers provide services that are geared toward higher net worth individuals — think millions of dollars in assets. They generally provide services that are more comprehensive in scope, beyond just general investing advice.
  • Brokers, or registered representatives, buy and sell securities products like bonds, mutual funds and stocks. Stockbrokers work for broker-dealers and must be licensed by the state in which they practice. Stockbrokers must also be registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and pass FINRA’s exams to practice.

People often assess their financial situation to determine what they want to get out of working with a financial advisor before starting to look for one. You should consider:

  • Costs and fees: How much are you budgeting to pay an advisor compared to their total cost? This includes not just the advisor’s fee, but other charges they may incur as well, such as trading fees.
  • Services: Does this advisor offer the specific services you are looking for? If you need to address tax concerns, for example, look for someone who specializes in tax planning, like a certified public accountant (CPA). People also sometimes look for advisors who cater to a specific demographic like women or business executives, so make sure their specialties align with your preferences.
  • Reputation: Consider whether a financial advisor is a fiduciary who will act with your best interests in mind. You can also browse a firm’s Form ADV to learn more about their background, any potential conflicts of interest and disciplinary disclosures.
  • Compatibility: Many people find it helpful to work with someone they can get along with and feel like they can trust. They may also speak to other clients to get their assessment of the advisor.
  • Location: Is proximity important to you? Many prefer to be located near their advisor. (More on location below.)

Having a financial advisor located nearby can be convenient. That way, the client and advisor can talk and work together in person. A bank or credit union may have in-house financial advisors, adding an extra level of convenience.

A robo-advisor, on the other hand, offers an online experience. Some robo-advisors include the chance to speak with human advisors as a more premium feature, while others offer it to all levels.

Among our top 11 questions to ask a financial advisor, here are five:

  • Are you a fiduciary? A fiduciary is bound to act in your best interests. This will help ensure that they are providing recommendations that are truly right for your financial situation — not just their bottom line.
  • How do you get paid? Asking about a financial advisor’s fee schedule will reveal whether they receive outside money, often through sales-based commissions, instead of being paid solely by their client. This can create conflicts of interest. (More on how financial advisors make money below.)
  • How will I be able to communicate with you? Some advisors give their clients a quarterly status update plus an annual strategy meeting. If you have specific needs that require more communication, now is the time to ask.
  • Do you have any disclosures? Financial advisors should be able to provide a record of any past complaints and regulatory or disciplinary issues. Be wary of a track record of misconduct.
  • What are your credentials and certifications? Some credentials indicate extensive and continued financial education and testing. (More on what these credentials mean below.)

Before working with a financial advisor, many people take a look at their credentials. These can indicate their level of experience and education, as well as their areas of expertise. Though there are numerous certifications an advisor can earn, here are some common certifications financial advisors maintain:

  • Certified Financial Planners (CFP) are educated and trained in eight areas of financial planning, including taxes, retirement, estates, insurance and risk management. In addition to their initial education and examination, CFPs must complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years. CFPs must abide by standards set by the CFP board.
  • Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) are certified to provide you with advanced investment analysis and portfolio management. The CFA designation is globally recognized, and CFAs must go through extensive education and training that continues throughout their career. CFAs are also bound to fiduciary duty, which means they must act in their clients’ best interests.
  • Chartered Financial Consultants (ChFC) cover everything from tax planning to wealth management, advising based on specific needs, risk management and more. To become a ChFC, an advisor must complete the eight courses and pass an exam issued by The American College of Financial Services. The ChFC’s Professional Pledge includes a commitment to fiduciary duty.
  • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are best known for their tax services like accounting and auditing, but they can also provide personal financial planning, technology consulting and business valuation services.
  • Retirement Income Certified Professionals (RICP) are specialized financial advisors who can help you build a retirement plan and ensure you meet your financial goals. The RICP credential requires the completion of three educational courses and an exam.
  • Certified Private Wealth Advisors® (CPWAs®) serve high net worth individuals (defined by the SEC as those with at least $750,000 in assets under management or a net worth of at least $1.5 million). CPWAs must complete a monthslong certified education program and pass an examination at the end of the course. The certification is issued by the Investments & Wealth Institute. CPWAs must commit to following the Institute’s Code of Professional Responsibility, which requires CPWAs to act in the best interest of the client.

Not all financial advisors make money in the same way. While financial advisors will typically earn money from the fees their clients pay — whether through asset-based, hourly or fixed fees — some advisors may bring in money through other avenues, such as selling financial products. In fact, some advisors exclusively earn money from commissions.

Here are the three main financial advisor fee structures and what they mean:

Fee-only Fee-based Commission-based
  • Make money through the fees their clients pay for their services
  • Do not take commission and are not swayed to sell certain products or make particular recommendations
  • Charge clients based on percentage of assets under management
  • May also have flat fees, hourly rates or subscription-based fees
  • Make money through the fees their clients pay for their services
  • Can receive commissions from financial products they recommend and sell to clients, which can lead to conflict of interest
  • Fees often based on percentage of assets under management
  • May also charge flat fees, hourly rates or performance-based fees
  • Make money on commission from third parties that offer other financial services and products
  • Earn money when they make a certain sale, often in investments like annuities or mutual funds
  • Can sometimes mean an advisor pushes a client to buy something that they don’t necessarily want or need

Fees vary from one financial advisor to the next. The exact cost depends on the advisor, their fee structure, the firm and the client’s total assets under management. Many firms will provide their advisory or investment fees and expenses directly on their site (always a good sign of transparency). 

A financial advisor may charge other fees, such as performance-based fees (for when the advisor hits a benchmark); flat fees for extra or separate services or products; and investment-related costs like trading commissions.

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