The best financial advisors December 2023


Are you thinking about how to get your financial situation organized and optimized for retirement, but aren’t sure how to begin? Or maybe you have a handle on your investments and feel confident that you’ve saved enough, but you want a second opinion when it comes to withdrawal rates, tax consequences and other decisions.

If you’re looking for help, you want the best financial advisor for your situation, but it can be hard to tell the various firms apart. Is it best to work with a one-person shop where the advisor can give you plenty of personalized attention, or is a bigger firm with dozens of advisors under one roof a better fit?

Here are some ways to help you determine those answers, using data from the 10 biggest registered investment advisors headquartered in the U.S.

What do financial advisors do?

Whether it’s planning for retirement, managing investments or minimizing tax liabilities, the best financial advisors provide customized solutions tailored to their clients’ individual needs.

One of an advisor’s primary responsibilities is to assess a client’s current financial situation, including income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Lifestyle factors also enter into the process. The best advisors don’t use cookie-cutter approaches but, instead, develop an investment and financial plan uniquely suited to each client.

In past generations, people had stock brokers who would simply buy and sell securities for client portfolios. Those days are long gone. While today’s advisors still allocate portfolios, they tend to take a holistic approach, using pooled investment products like exchange-traded funds or mutual funds, and focus on comprehensive planning. The full planning process for clients can include not just investments but, also, tax strategy, estate planning, insurance evaluation, charitable giving, help with buying and selling real estate, and more.

The best financial advisors stay up-to-date on ever-changing financial regulations and market trends, helping their clients make well-informed decisions in an increasingly complex financial landscape.

What to look for in a financial advisor

Selecting the right financial advisor can seem like a daunting task. It can be hard to tell whether an advisor is completely independent or has an affiliation with either a national broker-dealer, a firm that trades securities for both clients and itself, or a larger registered investment advisory (RIA) firm, which has a fiduciary obligation to its clients.

To make an informed choice, there are several key factors to consider when evaluating potential advisors.

Check the advisor’s licensing and credentials using FINRA’s free BrokerCheck tool. It will tell you whether the advisor or firm you’re evaluating is current on licensing and if there are any disclosure events that may be “red flags.” A disclosure event for a financial advisor is a mandatory report of any material information that could affect client interests.

Experience is another crucial element. Seek advisors with a record of successfully managing assets and executing financial planning for clients with similar goals as yours. That experience can provide valuable insights and a proven ability to navigate various financial challenges.

Clear communication is also essential. A good advisor should explain complex financial concepts in understandable terms. If you’re interviewing an advisor and he or she uses confusing financial jargon you don’t understand, don’t feel bad. Move on to another advisor. You need to have clear, open, jargon-free discussions about your own finances.

Advisors should also be open about fees and compensation structures, ensuring there are no hidden costs that could erode your investment performance.

In general, it’s best to choose an advisor who holds the fiduciary duty, meaning he or she is legally bound to act in your best interest. The fiduciary duty can help minimize conflicts of interest but doesn’t entirely eliminate them.

Also, be sure to understand the advisor’s approach and philosophy. Some advisors may focus on passive investing, a strategy that attempts to track the performance of a market index or a set of market sectors chosen by an investment manager, while others prefer active management, in which investment managers attempt to earn returns higher than a market index by actively buying and selling securities. Others use a mix of the two. Any of those can be appropriate in client accounts, depending on the situation. Understanding the advisor’s investment philosophy can help ensure a harmonious working relationship.

Types of financial advisors

Financial advisors’ businesses are structured in several different ways. While any of these structures can benefit clients, the fiduciary structure has become more popular in recent years and is increasingly the choice of new clients as well as advisors entering the business.

Registered investment advisor (RIA)

A registered investment advisor sounds like a person, but it’s actually a firm structure. An RIA firm is structured as a fiduciary that provides personalized investment advice and, usually, financial planning.

An RIA firm is typically fee-only, which means it charges a direct fee for its services and does not receive commission or compensation for selling certain products, and can offer clients several options for paying for its services. Those include a subscription service, or simply by withdrawing their payment from client accounts on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly.

An advisor who works at an RIA is called an investment advisor representative (IAR).

Registered representatives

A registered representative is a person who works for a firm that’s allowed, by law, to sell commission-based products, like mutual funds or insurance contracts that compensate the advisor who sells them. Many of these registered reps work for big-name, national firms.

Like IARs, these registered reps frequently hold the certified financial planner (CFP) credential and offer financial planning as one of their services, in addition to asset management.

Insurance agents

Some insurance agents can sell mutual funds and manage portfolios because they have the necessary licenses, like a Series 6 or 7, allowing them to offer investment products alongside insurance.

This combination can help clients achieve a more comprehensive financial strategy, addressing both protection and wealth-building needs. However, it’s essential for clients to understand potential conflicts of interest, as agents may receive commissions for selling both insurance and investment products, impacting their recommendations.

In addition, many investment advisors can sell insurance, as they are licensed agents but aren’t obligated to represent just one carrier’s products.

Financial planners

Financial planners make up a small group of advisors who only do financial planning and have no asset management services. This isn’t a very common model, as it’s difficult for a planner to run a viable business with financial planning as their only service for various reasons.

These planners are generally fee-only, although some receive commissions for selling investment products. They can offer anything from a one-time plan to a subscription service that’s billed on a recurring basis for plan updates and consultations. These planners typically hold the CFP credential.

A financial advisor sits with a couple at a table and points to a sheet of paper.

How to find the best financial advisor

Think of hiring a financial advisor as a step-by-step process. Interview at least three advisors to get a feel for how the business works and to see who has the right expertise for your situation.

Also, pay attention to chemistry; after all, your personal financial advisor will know many intimate details about you and your family, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with him or her.

Keep the following points in mind as you search for the best financial advisor or best financial advisor firms.

  • Clarify Your Goals: Define your financial objectives and expectations for your financial advisor. Whether you seek a financial advisor for retirement, investment management or comprehensive planning, understanding your goals will help you find the right match.
  • Understand fee structures: Different financial advisor companies charge differently. Common fee structures include flat fees, hourly rates, commissions or a percentage of assets under management (AUM). Be sure the fee structure is aligned with your preferences. Also, many clients don’t realize an advisor’s fees may be negotiable, depending on the scope of work. There’s no harm in asking if the advisor is willing to lower his or her fee or discuss a different payment schedule.
  • Confirm fiduciary duty: It’s generally a good idea to seek a financial advisor who has a legal obligation to act in your best interest. This fiduciary responsibility minimizes conflicts of interest. At the very least, understand on which of your accounts your advisor has a fiduciary obligation, and understand how he or she plans to approach all your accounts.
  • Check references: Request references from past and current clients to gauge a personal financial advisor’s track record and reliability.
  • Review regulatory records: Verify a personal financial advisor’s regulatory records through resources like FINRA’s BrokerCheck database to ensure there are no disciplinary actions.
  • Consider specialization: Depending on your needs, you might prefer a financial advisor with expertise in areas such as retirement planning, estate planning or tax optimization. Some advisors specialize in serving dentists, airline pilots, women, African American clients, entrepreneurs, lesbian and gay clients, childless couples or some other demographic.
  • Assess communication: Your personal financial advisor should be able to explain complex concepts in understandable terms and maintain open, transparent communication. If you interview an advisor as a couple and find the advisor speaks primarily to one of you and not the other, that’s a red flag. Also, be sure the advisor is open to answering any questions you have for him or her.
  • Trust your instincts: Ultimately, trust your gut feeling. You should feel confident in your financial advisor’s abilities and ethical conduct and that he or she is someone you would be comfortable reaching out to with questions or concerns.

Methodology

Our list of top-rated financial advisor firms was derived from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s database of registered investment adviser Form ADV filings.

We first screened for RIAs that have their main office in the United States, total assets under management of at least $1 billion and latest Form ADV filing date of March 31, 2023 or later.

From the resulting list of more than 700 RIAs, we screened for firms that:

  • Do not have employees who are registered representatives of a broker-dealer
  • Do provide financial planning services
  • Are not actively engaged in business as a broker-dealer (registered or unregistered)
  • Are not actively engaged in business as a registered representative of a broker-dealer
  • Do not receive commissions
  • Do not have a related person who is a broker-dealer/municipal securities dealer/government securities broker or dealer (registered or unregistered)
  • Do not have a related person who is an insurance company or agency
  • Have no more than 50% of amount of regulatory assets under management attributable to pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Have no more than 25% of amount of regulatory assets under management attributable to pension and profit-sharing plans (but not the plan participants)
  • Have no more than 25% of amount of regulatory assets under management attributable to corporations or other businesses

Finally, we searched the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website for compliance records to determine if there were any disclosures against a firm that would exclude them.

Top-rated financial advisor firms

Here’s a look at 10 of the largest firms that meet those criteria, sorted by total regulatory assets under management:

1. Cambridge Associates

Total regulatory AUM: $276.0 billion

Total accounts: 586

Main office: Boston, MA

Other offices: 4

States with offices: Virginia, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, California

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Hourly charges
  • Subscription fees
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees
  • Other: Percent of assets invested

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Pension consulting services
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)
  • Publication of periodicals or newsletters
  • Educational seminars/workshops

2. Fisher Investments

Total regulatory AUM: $192.4 billion

Total accounts: 269,289

Main office: Plano, TX

Other offices: 14

States with offices: California, Florida, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Virginia

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Performance-based fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for investment companies (& BDCs)
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Other: Portfolio assessment

3. Hall Capital Partners

Total regulatory AUM: $46.7 billion

Total accounts: 187

Main office: San Francisco, CA

Other offices: 1

States with offices: New York, California

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)

4. Jasper Ridge Partners, L.P.

Total regulatory AUM: $33.1 billion

Total accounts: 51

Main office: Fort Worth, TX

Other offices: 3

States with offices: Virginia, Texas, California

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees
  • Reimbursement for certain costs and expenses

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)
  • Other: Portfolio management for private investment vehicles

5. Moneta Group Investment Advisors

Total regulatory AUM: $30.7 billion

Total accounts: 37,339

Main office: St. Louis, MO

Other offices: 4

States with offices: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Hourly charges
  • Fixed fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Pension consulting services
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)
  • Educational seminars/workshops

6. Silvercrest Asset Management Group

Total regulatory AUM: $28.9 billion

Total accounts: 1,289

Main office: New York, NY

Other offices: 6

States with offices: Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin, California, New York

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)

7. Pathstone

Total regulatory AUM: $24.8 billion

Total accounts: 18,943

Main office: Englewood, NJ

Other offices: 15

States with offices: Arizona, California, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, ,Washingto nWyoming

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Hourly charges
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for investment companies (& BDCs)
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)
  • Educational seminars/workshops
  • Other: Family office services – expense management, bill pay, insurance advisory, concierge service, philanthropic advisory

8. BBR Partners

Total regulatory AUM: $24.1 billion

Total accounts: 4,300

Main office: New York, NY

Other offices: 5

States with offices: New York, California, Illinois

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Fixed fees
  • Performance-based fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for investment companies (& BDCs)
  • Portfolio management for pooled investment vehicles (other than investment companies)
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)

9. Savant Wealth Management

Total regulatory AUM: $18.7 billion

Total accounts: 12,951

Main office: Rockford, IL

Other offices: 31

States with offices: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Hourly charges
  • Fixed fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Pension consulting services
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)
  • Publication of periodicals or newsletters
  • Educational seminars/workshops

10. IEQ Capital

Total regulatory AUM: $18.5 billion

Total accounts: 1,124

Main office: Foster City, CA

Other offices: 7

States with offices: California, Massachusetts

Compensated by:

  • Percentage of AUM
  • Fixed fees

Services offered:

  • Financial planning services
  • Portfolio management for individuals and/or small businesses
  • Portfolio management for business (other than small businesses) or institutional clients (other than registered investment companies and other pooled investment vehicles)
  • Pension consulting services
  • Selection of other advisers (including private fund managers)

Questions to ask potential financial advisors

When you’re interviewing financial advisors, don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions, especially those that apply to your unique situation. The advisory business can seem stuffy and buttoned up and, for that reason, intimidating. However, if your prospective advisor isn’t down-to-earth enough to answer your questions, you might consider moving on to another candidate.

Understanding fee structures and compensation

When learning about a financial advisor’s fee structure, start by asking for a clear breakdown of how he or she is compensated, whether through fees, commissions or a combination.

Be aware of any potential conflicts of interest, particularly if the advisor’s firm allows commissions. Request a fee schedule, and inquire about any additional charges, like trading costs. Be sure to choose an advisor whose compensation model best suits your financial goals and expectations.

Financial advisors versus robo-advisors

Financial advisors and robo-advisors offer distinct approaches to investing.

Financial advisors are human professionals who provide personalized, one-on-one advice tailored to your individual goals and needs. They generally offer a comprehensive, holistic approach that includes financial planning, tax strategies and estate planning.

On the other hand, a robo-advisor is an automated platform that uses algorithms to manage your investments based on your own risk tolerance and goals. You typically fill out a questionnaire before moving your money to a robo-advisor.

While cost-effective and efficient, robo-advisors lack the personal touch and may not address complex financial situations as comprehensively as human advisors. A robo-advisor can work in many situations, but most investors would benefit from a financial plan.

The role of certification and credentials

Every advisor must have some kind of licensing or credential to operate legally. Ask your advisor directly, or check his or her credentials using FINRA’s BrokerCheck.

In addition to a securities license, which indicates the advisor has passed an exam allowing him or her to manage money or trade client accounts, many advisors have other credentials including certified financial planner (CFP) or chartered financial analyst (CFA). Other specialized credentials include certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), chartered financial consultant (ChFC) and chartered life underwriter (CLU).

These qualifications can help advisors provide specific services to meet unique client needs.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

A financial advisor is a human professional offering personalized guidance, while a robo-advisor is an automated platform that uses algorithms for investment management.

When evaluating a financial advisor’s qualifications, be sure he or she has passed the relevant security exams. The advisor may also have additional certifications, such as CFP or CFA. These designations demonstrate expertise and commitment to ethical standards.

You can always switch advisors. If you begin working with an advisor and realize he or she is not the best financial advisor for you, start shopping around to find another. It’s easy to roll your money from one advisor’s custodian — the firm that actually holds and safeguards clients’ assets — to a new one.



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