Who is Your Financial Advisor?


financial advisor


Professional titles are a great way to distinguish professionals from one another. You would not confuse Dr. John Smith with John Smith D.M.D., or Col. John Smith with Lt. John Smith. The financial advisory profession is much the same way. However, it is a little more cryptic to the investing public as to what the different titles mean in the financial advisory profession due to their lack of uniformity. I hope to dispel some of this confusion right here.

Job “Title” vs Designation

Financial advisors use titles and designations to communicate to their clients and prospective clients who they are and what they do. While titles are a way to communicate to people what their role is, a designation is a way to show people that they have received additional education in certain areas. Unfortunately, there is very little regulation or oversight in using different titles or designations from the industry regulators.  This has actually been one of the main causes for the lack of clarity among the investing public along with the rampant creation of designations for different specializations. The Wall Street Journal recently listed 208 designations for financial service professionals on their website.1

This list of 208 does not include designations which are internally given by companies to their brokers or advisors for passing an advanced education exam. For example, I received a Financial Planning Specialist (FPS) designation when I worked at Smith Barney. However, when I left the firm, I could no longer use the designation even though I passed the test. If you see the list, you will realize the runaway problem the financial services industry faces in further confusing the public. Some of these designations are monitored by FINRA and some are not.

How popular is your financial advisor?

As a professional financial advisor with over 16 years of experience, I have spent a lot of time over those years trying to craft the appropriate title to describe my profession, while at the same time trying to distinguish myself. One type of competition I have is with other people who have services which closely mirror my own. The other type of competition is from people who are from a different profession but use the title of financial advisor. People from other professions who also use this title include: insurance salespeople, mortgage brokers, tax preparers, and more. This leads to a consumer who ends up being confused. This confusion can also lead to the consumer to not get the right kind of help they need.

Popular financial advisor designations

As an example of some of this research, I have illustrated the investing public’s levels of interest in the following four  designations: Financial Advisor, Certified Financial Planner, Registered Representative (RR), and Investment Advisor Representative (IAR). Here are the results for group 1:

  • ( 72 )   Financial advisor,
  • ( 13 )   Certified Financial Planner,
  • (   2 )   Registered Representative(RR),
  • ( 0.2 )  Investment Advisor Representative(IAR)

investment advisor representative

These numbers illustrated are relative to one another in a linear manner taken from the past 10 years. For example, for every 72 people who showed an interest in “Financial Advisor”, only 2 showed an interest in “Registered Representative”.  With exception of “Financial Advisor”, the above group of titles can only be used by someone who has passed a test or certification process to use that title. “Financial Advisor” was only used to tie together Group 1 and Group 2 for the sake of comparison and since it is so widely used.

Popular financial advisor titles

Here is another comparison between the most commonly used titles for financial advisory professionals: Financial Advisor, Financial Consultant, Wealth Manager, Investment Advisor, and Financial Planner.

  • ( 76 )  Financial Advisor
  • ( 12 )  Financial Consultant
  • (   4 )  Wealth Manager
  • ( 19 )  Investment Advisor
  • ( 47 )  Financial Planner

financial advisors

The titles in group 2 do not have any legal or regulatory distinction. Anyone can call themselves one of these titles. If you are confused about what license, title, or designation the person has, just ask them. If the person is or was affiliated with a broker-dealer, it will be available for review at the FINRA website and is required to show up on the advisor’s website. If the person works at a RIA, then their information should be available from the firm’s Brochure or ADV.

Of the 208+ designations available to the finance related profession, only a few are well known to the public. Even with these designations, there is still much confusion. In the next post, I will discuss a few of the more common and well-known titles and designations to try to clear the air a bit for the investing public.


About Innovative Advisory Group: Innovative Advisory Group, LLC (IAG), an independent Registered Investment Advisory Firm, is bringing innovation to the wealth management industry by combining both traditional and alternative investments. IAG is unique in that they have an extensive understanding of the regulatory and financial considerations involved with self-directed IRAs and other retirement accounts. IAG advises clients on traditional investments, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, as well as advising clients on alternative investments. IAG has a value-oriented approach to investing, which integrates specialized investment experience with extensive resources. 

For more information, you can visit  www.innovativewealth.com  

About the author: Kirk Chisholm is a Wealth Manager and Principal at Innovative Advisory Group. His roles at IAG are co-chair of the Investment Committee and Head of the Traditional Investment Risk Management Group. His background and areas of focus are portfolio management and investment analysis in both the traditional and non-traditional investment markets. He received a BA degree in Economics from Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

Disclaimer: This article is intended solely for informational purposes only, and in no manner intended to solicit any product or service. The opinions in this article are exclusively of the author(s) and may or may not reflect all those who are employed, either directly or indirectly or affiliated with Innovative Advisory Group, LLC.

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