Carson Wealth Review - MagnifyMoney
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Carson Wealth Review

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Carson Wealth is one of a number of business names used by the investment advisory firm registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as CWM, LLC. The Omaha-based firm’s main focus 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 financial planning for individuals.

The bottom line: Carson Wealth is a wealth management and financial planning firm working mostly with non-high net worth individual investors.

  • Has low minimum investment requirements
  • Features financial planning services
  • Does not provide a standardized fee schedule

All information included in this profile is accurate as of December 8, 2021. For more information, please consult Carson Wealth’s website.

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Overview of Carson Wealth

The firm’s roots go back to 1983, when Ron Carson started the independent advisory firm Carson Wealth in Omaha, Nebraska. CWM, LLC was formed in 2010.

Today, CWM, LLC has roughly 30 offices nationwide under the Carson Wealth branding, as well as a network of 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. Carson Group Coaching, another division of the company, offers coaching to other financial advisors.

CWM has approximately 850 employees, about 250 of whom perform investment advisory functions, including research. The firm’s specialties include proprietary model portfolios, insurance and annuities and employer-sponsored retirement plans.

A look at the founder of Carson Wealth

Ron Carson, who is the CEO of The Carson Group, is the majority shareholder of the firm’s parent company, Carson Group Holdings. He’s been named to the Forbes List of America’s Top Wealth Advisors several times, and is regularly ranked among Barron’s top advisors. 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 media outlets including CNBC, FoxBusiness and Bloomberg.

Carson Wealth’s pros

  • National recognition for long track record: Founder Ron Carson was inducted into the Barron’s Advisor 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 12th on Barrons 2021 list of Top 100 RIA Firms.
  • 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. There is an account minimum of only $10,000 for all managed accounts.
  • Broad choice of strategies and portfolios: The firm offers proprietary model portfolios managed directly by Carson Wealth, providing a diverse group of strategies and interests based on the client’s needs and preferences.
  • 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 30 offices branded under Carson Wealth. Keep in mind that each partner office typically has its own name and founders.

Carson Wealth’s cons

  • 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 advisor fee, which generally ranges from 0.50% to 1.25% of assets under management. However, your fee at Carson Wealth could be much lower; you just 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 Lending, LLC 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.

What types of clients does Carson Wealth serve?

Non-high net worth individuals make up the largest percentage of the firm’s client base by far. However, the firm does also work with a number of high net worth individuals, defined as investors with at least $750,000 under an advisor’s management or a net worth believed to be at least $1.5 million.

The minimum amount of assets needed to open a managed or wrap account with the firm typically starts at $10,000, although exceptions may be granted if requested.

Services offered by Carson Wealth

Carson Wealth’s main focus is on managing its clients’ investment portfolios, a service it primarily provides on a discretionary basis, meaning the firm makes all decisions to buy, sell or hold securities without needing to first consult the client. That said, the firm manages some assets on a non-discretionary basis.

Around 200 employees are also licensed to sell insurance, so you may 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
  • Financial planning
    • Retirement planning
    • Estate planning
    • Education planning
    • Tax planning and management
    • Cash flow forecasting
    • Long-term care planning
    • Social Security analysis
    • Business valuation
    • Tax planning for business
    • Succession planning for businesses
  • Selection of other advisors
  • Newsletters
  • Seminars
  • Insurance/risk management
  • Employee benefit plan fiduciary services and 401(k) consulting
  • Specialized private client services

How Carson Wealth invests your money

Carson Wealth allocates client money across 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. 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: Attempts to determine a security’s intrinsic value by studying everything that can affect its value
  • Technical analysis: Looks at statistics, such as prices and volume, and uses charts and tools to identify patterns that may suggest future activity
  • Charting: Plots key factors, such as price movements and volume, to anticipate future movement

The firm then uses strategies including long- and short-term purchases, trading and option writing to manage client portfolios. Portfolios may use a wide range of investments, including securities, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), certificates of deposit (CDs), variable annuities, futures, options, mutual funds and others.

Fees Carson Wealth charges for its services

Portfolio management fees: For portfolio management, Carson Wealth 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.

You may also incur charges imposed by third parties in investments made through your account, including 12(b)-1 fees, surrender charges and IRA and qualified retirement plan fees.

Financial planning fees: While financial planning is included for asset management clients, those who receive standalone financial planning services will pay either an hourly or a fixed fee. Hourly rates range up to $500 per hour depending on the complexity of a client’s situation, and an estimate of the total time needed will be provided before work begins. Fixed fees range from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $25,000 or more for more complex situations.

Clients who opt for a True Wealth Plan will pay a one-time asset-based fee of 0.20% of the financial plan’s total assets. Clients who decide to use the firm’s financial planning services within six months of receiving their financial plan will receive a discount.

Carson Wealth disciplinary disclosures

Caron Wealth has no disciplinary disclosures to report. 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.

For more information on the firm, visit its Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) page.

Carson Wealth onboarding process

  1. Connect with Carson: You can connect with Carson Wealth by filling out the contact form provided on its website, which requests your name, email address, phone number and a brief message. You can also search for an advisor by location.
  2. Decide whether to sign up and meet with a representative: 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.
  3. Have an initial meeting: 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.
  4. Stay in touch at least annually: 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.

Where Carson Wealth is located

Carson Wealth lists locations in the following states in its Form ADV:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

While the above states are where the firm lists office locations, Carson Wealth is registered to serve investors in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

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. Clients can also take advantage of the firm for standalone financial planning services. 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. Be sure to research multiple firms to ensure you find the right advisor for you.

The “Find a Financial Advisor” links contained in this article will direct you to webpages devoted to MagnifyMoney Advisor (“MMA”). After completing a brief questionnaire, you will be matched with certain financial advisers who participate in MMA’s referral program, which may or may not include the investment advisers discussed.