If you do a quick search for, “Find a financial advisor” or “Best financial advisor” you’ll end up seeing paid ads at the top. In our search through the first two pages of Google and Bing we found the following:
- Find Your Independent Advisor – this is actually Charles Schwab but their is no mention of them before you click
- Financial Engines – this is a lead generation site, advisors pay to be listed or they pay for each lead – you become a “lead”
- Morgan Stanley – traditional Wall Street Wealth Management Firm
- Wiseadvisor – another “lead generation” website where the advisors are paying to have your name…real quality control here, right
- Senior Finance Advisor – lead generation once again
- Edleman – an RIA where the company gets leads for their advisors
What does this give you when searching to find an advisor? Not much. The advisors are more than happy to pay these “lead generation” sites as they only pay when a lead is given to them. They pay anywhere from $10 to $100 for your name, phone number, or email address. In addition, these lead generation sites offer limited advisor evaluations – they do provide broker information using publically available information from www.brokercheck.org (FINRA info) but what we have found is the remaining data about the advisors business and speciality is provided by the advisor, so there is not “deep dive.” For example, an financial advisor might change firms every seven to ten years. Why is this important. Within the wealth management industry, financial advisors receive a check to move from one firm to another firm. It is typically an economic reason and not in the interest of their clients. But, moving once in a twenty years could be for the right reasons so we need to evaluate the moves. If moving more often, well there really cannot be a great reason outside of receiving a check from the new firm. We look at this and help our clients see if the advisor is always on their side of the table when working with them.
As to the financial services/wealth management firms, we see this as more brand awareness We particularly enjoy:
- Baird – smaller, boutique advisor firm
- LPL – large RIA. They offer support to advisors who want to use an RIA but desire structure around their business
- Ameriprise – former American Express brokerage firm that is made up of advisors
- UBS – large wealth management firm, Swiss-based
- Merrill Lynch – large wealth management firm based in the US bought by Bank of America
- CFP Board – the site for registered Certified Financial Planners and consumers wanting to find out about CFP’s (who they are and qualifications)
This is a good selection of various firms. Unfortunately, it is still up to those doing the search to figure out who is best. As an example, assume you click on the Baird link. By the way, for a smaller firm to rank above the big boys with deep pockets is quite impressive. These larger firms spend heavily on specific search engine methodologies to be listed at the top. Anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 a month to be “the first ones listed.” The smaller firms, not having the large budget, must use more guerrilla marketing techniques such as creating daily articles, keywords, and such.
If you click on Baird, it takes you to their “landing page” offering you an overview of their services and the ability to “find a financial advisor.” This is great except it does nothing to really help you find an advisor based on your criteria. You are still left at the beginning stage of, “How do I find a financial advisor for my family and, more importantly, how do I know my financial advisor is one of the best?”
How do you, the consumer, use search engines to find an advisor. We’d argue, unfortunately, it is very difficult if not impossible.
- If you want an advisor who is paying for your information, no qualifications checked, then use search
- If you want to read about firms and see which one does a good job in “marketing and design of their website or web page” seach engines might work for you – but remember this does not qualify them
- If you are doing an “information download,” then this is actually a good spot to check.
One other caveat, to not make things any easier on you. There are firms out there reporting their abilities “to find an financial advisor” for you. Maybe even find one of the best financial advisors. However, what we have found is their conflict of interests are usually well hidden. They manage money on the side and their views are skewed around their own goals.
Our conclusion after doing a deep dive over a few weeks with search engines was the complete inability to actually find an advisor. We’d like to say we offer a path, but our path never can compete with what firms are doing like the ones we listed.
It is up to you to know the basics and here is what the basics should include:
- Do a brokercheck background on the advisor through www.finra.org
- For those who are middle-aged or older, find an advisor with experience. Younger investors could choose someone closer to their age – remember, it can be a long-term relationship
- Interview more than one financial advisor. Meeting only one advisor will limited your options
- Ask the financial advisor how they have done historical with investment performance
- Get a clear idea of “financial advisor fees and investment fees.”