There is a lot of press touting the benefits of selecting Independent Financial Advisors, but rarely does the media define the characteristics of these professionals. What does it mean to be independent? How are investors supposed to be able to identify independent financial advisors? What makes them so special?
Licensing has a major impact on the independence of financial advisors. For example, a sales rep with a Series 6 license is limited to selling mutual funds and other investment products for commission. His investment recommendations are limited to approved lists that are determined by the company that holds his license. He knows what he wants to sell you before he has even met you. This is not independent financial advice.
Some financial advisors own their own Registered Investment Advisory firms. They are in the best position to provide independent advice because no one is telling them what to do with your assets. They determine the products and services that they recommend. Their registration also permits them to provide advice and ongoing services for fees. These advisors are in the best position to provide independent advice.
Legitimate financial advisors who are Registered Investment Advisors or Investment Advisor Representatives are fiduciaries. Financial fiduciaries are held to the highest ethical standards in the financial service industry. The primary standard, always putting investor interests first, eliminates most potential conflicts of interest, and increases the odds you are getting independent advice.
Independent financial advice means you have unrestricted choices when you invest your assets. Your choices are not limited to products that generate the most revenue and profit for companies and their representatives. Watch out for advisors who try to limit your choices to investments that are produced, owned, or affiliated with the company that holds their licenses. You are not getting independent advice when they limit your choices to proprietary products or products that pay hidden fees to the companies that hold their licenses.
A financial advisor may be an employee or contractor of a firm and still deliver independent advice. Or, the advisor owns the firm. Regardless of his employment situation, the definition of true independence is the advisor’s ability to deliver high quality advice that is in his clients’ best interest and is free of any potential conflicts of interest. This type of advisor may be hard to find because he does very little marketing. He doesn’t have to. His clients appreciate his independence and are happy to refer him to people they know.