Equitable Advisors Review - MagnifyMoney
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Equitable Advisors Review

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Equitable Advisors, formerly known as Axa Advisors, is a dually registered investment advisor and broker-dealer headquartered in New York. The firm offers both financial planning and asset management services through financial professionals located across the country. Currently, the company has more than $22 billion in assets under management (AUM), though that’s largely managed through third-party programs.

The bottom line: Equitable Advisors (formerly known as Axa Advisors) provides financial planning and advisory services primarily to individuals, including high net worth individuals.

  • Most investment advisory services provided through third-party programs
  • Fees, minimums and investment offerings vary by program
  • Over 800 offices throughout the U.S.

All information included in this profile is accurate as of September 14, 2021. For more information, please consult Equitable Advisors’ website.

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Overview of Equitable Advisors

Equitable Advisors was founded in July 1999. However, the company’s roots go back to 1859, when Henry Hyde founded the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. Until June 2020, the firm was known as Axa Advisors, which was part of AXA Equitable Life.

Today, Equitable is a subsidiary of Equitable Holdings, a holdings company that is comprised of two financial services franchises: Equitable Life Insurance Company and the global investment firm AllianceBernstein.

The firm currently has over 6,000 employees, roughly 3,700 of whom perform investment advisory and research functions.

Equitable Advisors’ pros

  • Advisors located across the United States: The firm has over 800 office locations throughout the country. Additionally, it is registered to serve clients in all 50 states with the exception of Massachusetts, as well as in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, making it accessible to investors in many locations.
  • Options for low minimum account balances: They offer a wide array of investment programs with varying minimum balances. Some require no minimum investment or account balance, making the firm an option for those who don’t want to invest large sums.
  • Numerous portfolio options: Because Equitable offers a number of different third-party programs, customers have access to ample portfolio options.

Equitable Advisors’ cons

  • Earns commissions or additional compensation for certain activities: Equitable offers insurance and mutual funds issued through its affiliated firms, Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company and AllianceBernstein. This may present a conflict of interest, as advisors may be financially incentivized to make certain recommendations.
  • Commission-based brokerage services may present a conflict of interest: Financial professionals at Equitable can earn commissions each time a client buys or sells a security in a brokerage account. This could present a conflict of interest since they benefit the more you trade and based on the type of trades you make.
  • Third-party programs: Because Equitable’s services are provided through third parties, those looking for personalized, direct contact with a firm may not like the extra layer and prefer to work with a firm that has its own programs.

What types of clients does Equitable Advisors serve?

The majority of the firm’s clients are individual investors, including those who are high net worth individuals, defined by the SEC as those with at least $750,000 under the management of an advisor or a net worth believed to be at least $1.5 million. The firm’s ratio of individual clients tips slightly toward individuals without high net worth though. The rest of its clients are pension and profit-sharing plans, charitable organizations and corporations and other businesses.

The firm offers a wide range of programs through third parties, each with varying portfolio minimum requirements, ranging from programs with no minimum to those with minimums as high as $5 million.

Services offered by Equitable Advisors

Equitable Advisors provides financial planning and asset management services, as well as retirement plan services, through advisors located across the country.

For asset management services, Equitable either refers clients to third-party investment advisors that sponsor advisory programs (for which Equitable receives a fee) or it acts as a “co-advisor” for third-party program sponsors. Even though Equitable typically refers asset management clients to third parties, it still interacts with the client in doing the paperwork to open the account, conducting annual client meetings and facilitating communication. The programs’ individual sponsors, however, determine clients’ investments.

For reference, here is a full list of the services that Equitable Advisors can offer clients:

  • Asset management programs (offered through Equitable Advisors’ program sponsors)
    • Mutual fund advisory programs
    • ETF advisory programs
    • Financial professional as advisor programs
    • Separately managed account advisory services
    • Unified management account
    • Non-proprietary wrap fee programs
  • Financial planning
    • Insurance planning
    • Asset allocation and investment planning
    • Retirement and distribution planning
    • Education planning
    • Estate planning
    • Stock options strategy
    • Income tax planning
    • Major purchase planning
    • Divorce planning
  • Corporate financial planning
  • Retirement plan investment advisory support services
  • ERISA fiduciary services — retirement plan consulting services
  • Business strategy services
  • Seminars

How Equitable Advisors invests your money

Equitable offers its clients opportunities to invest in portfolios that offer a wide range of investments including stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), variable life and annuity products and beyond. Additionally, clients may have access to alternative investments including managed futures, business development companies and real estate investment trusts (REITs).

The firm provides clients with access to about 30 other third-party asset management programs. Each has varying portfolio options, fees and account balance/initial investment minimums. The firm also may refer clients to a host of other affiliated and non-affiliated investment advisory and asset management services of various third-party unaffiliated portfolio management programs.

Most investments are made through third-party advisory programs on a non-discretionary basis, meaning they primarily make the buying and selling decisions for the client. In some cases, the firm refers clients to LPL Financial and its strategic asset management programs on a non-discretionary basis, meaning clients make the decisions to purchase and sell investments.

Fees Equitable Advisors charges for its services

Asset management fees: For Equitable Advisors’ asset management services, the firm charges clients based on a percentage of the account value and rates are negotiable. For third-party asset management programs, fees range from 0.20% to 2.50%, depending on the program.

For non-wrap programs, meaning programs where all costs are not bundled into a single fee, you may have to pay other investing-related costs like custodial and transaction fees in addition to the annual fees the firm charges. If your program includes mutual funds, there may be additional fees for those as well.

Financial planning fees: The firm’s financial planning fees vary and are agreed upon before a client signs an agreement. Fees may be fixed, asset-based or hourly. Fixed fees for new plans can range from $250 to $25,000, and periodic reviews range from $250 to $12,500. Hourly fees fall between $100 and $400 per hour.

Equitable Advisors disciplinary disclosures

The firm has a number of disciplinary disclosures on its record. As a registered investment advisor, the firm is required by the SEC to disclose any disciplinary incidents — which includes civil, regulatory or criminal actions against the firm, its employees or its affiliates over the last 10 years — that may be material to a client evaluating the firm or the integrity of its management team.

Some of the most significant events listed on the firm’s most recent Form ADV filings are listed below, organized according to when the order was dated:

May 2, 2019: Equitable Advisors was censured, fined $600,000 and required to pay restitution totaling $172,461.33 to plan participants related to allegations from FINRA that it had provided inaccurate and misleading documents to clients. The firm was also ordered to send corrected documents to plan participants.

March 11, 2019: Equitable Advisors consented to a cease-and-desist order and censure, and paid clients more than $1.1 million for SEC allegations that it had recommended or purchased mutual fund share classes for clients with higher fees rather than similar options with lower fees, and didn’t disclose its conflict of interest in doing so.

March 23, 2012: In response to FINRA allegations that Equitable Advisors didn’t adequately supervise one of its representatives who misappropriated more than $120,000 from a customer, the firm consented to an acceptance, waiver & consent, was fined $50,000 and reimbursed the customer.

March 13, 2012: Equitable consented to an Acceptance, Waiver & Consent and was fined $100,000 in response to FINRA allegations that they filed to supervise and properly investigate red flags regarding one of their representatives who allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme to get customers to invest in fictitious investments.

January 20, 2012: Equitable Advisors agreed to pay $100,000 in civil penalties and took measures to improve its supervisory system after an SEC allegation that another representative had misappropriated funds from clients.

June 2, 2011: In response to allegations from the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities that one of its representatives sold fictitious investments to clients and apportioned client funds for personal use, Equitable Advisors paid a $75,000 fine and made a contribution of $5,000 to the DCBS Consumer Financial Education Account.

For more information on the firm and its disciplinary history, visit Equitable Advisors’ IAPD page.

Equitable Advisors onboarding process

To connect with the firm, you can search for an advisor based on your location via the firm’s website. You can also request to have an advisor contact you by providing your full name and phone number or email address.

For asset management services, most accounts are reviewed annually by the advisor, who will then meet with the client to go over any updates to their financial or personal information. Reports for investment advisory accounts are typically issued on a quarterly basis, generally by the program sponsor, which will likely be a third party.

Equitable Advisors’ financial planning services typically don’t include any type of ongoing review or reports beyond the creation of the initial plan. It’s up to clients to initiate and pay for any ongoing planning services.

Where Equitable Advisors is located

Equitable Advisors has approximately 840 offices across the United States. In its Form ADV, it lists office locations in the following states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Is Equitable Advisors right for you?

Those looking for a large, national firm that provides both financial planning and asset management services may consider Equitable Advisors. The firm provides clients with numerous program options (sponsored by separate advisory firms), many of which have low or even no minimum requirements. Plus, the firm has offices throughout the United States, making it physically accessible as well.

However, the firm’s numerous disciplinary disclosures may raise red flags for some. Potential clients should also be aware of the firm’s potential conflicts of interest, as many of Equitable’s advisors also act as broker-dealers, and the company sells insurance and other investment products.

Whether Equitable Advisors is the right firm for you or not, know that finding the right financial advisor is one of the best ways to build your financial future.

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.