Do I need a financial planner, an investment advisor, or a wealth manager?

I have always been concerned by the fact that people in the financial services industry can call themselves anything they want, regardless of whether it accurately describes what they do or not.  There are no government regulations that define what a wealth manager is and what makes one different from a stock broker, insurance salesman, financial advisor, etc.… or what functions you must perform to call yourself by one of these names. 


With no rules about such things, most financial professionals these days avoid using terms that suggest they perform any sales-related function and focus on using terms which imply that they work exclusively with high net worth clients, even though this is frequently more of a marketing tactic than a reality. 


Without guidance on what to call ourselves, we at BCR consider ourselves wealth managers.  Unfortunately, many others who use this term do little more than sell investments.  We feel this is not an accurate use of the term because investments are only one piece of your financial picture, so selling investments is not the same as managing wealth.


To use a medical analogy, I think of a wealth manager as your primary care physician.  He is the person who knows everything about the state of your health, but he doesn’t think he is all you need.  He knows when to call in specialists and which ones to refer you to.  If you are seeing more than one specialist, your primary doctor can look at all the prescriptions and instructions you’ve been given and make sure one no one has ordered something that will counteract the effects of something else.


This is what I believe a wealth manager does for your financial health.  A true wealth manager has his eye on your entire financial picture, not just one aspect of it.  He helps you develop a comprehensive financial plan and serves as a catalyst in getting that plan executed.  He knows what the other professionals on your team are doing, like your accountant or attorney, and he helps you make sure that their actions are conducive to achieving your goals; that one advisor doesn’t have you doing something that works against what you are trying to accomplish in another area.


This is what we do at BCR.  Our clients come to us for more than just advice about their investments.  The fact that we call ourselves wealth managers doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be wealthy for us to work with you.  It simply means that you want more than just investment advice; you want someone to help you develop and execute a comprehensive financial plan that goes beyond your investment portfolio.   


If you’re trying to determine what type of professional to work with, I am sorry that you can’t look at their titles and determine what they do.  My advice is to interview anyone you consider working with and figure out whether their skill is selling investment products (which may or may not be the best for you) or in helping you develop and implement a plan that will get you where you want to go.

Marshall Rathmell

Marshall Rathmell

Marshall Rathmell CFP®, CPA/PFS is the CEO, Shareholder and Financial Planner with BCR Wealth Strategies.