Making smart decisions with money can be tricky, especially if you don’t know much about finances. Seeking out online financial advisors for guidance can be a smart first step to make sure your financial situation is a good one.
Online financial advisors offer services such as money management, asset protection and retirement planning. For more information and additional helpful advice, visit our How much do I need to retire? resource.
Top 10 Best Rated Online Financial Advisors
Located in Palo Alto, Wealthfront is a company for automated investments that was founded in 2008. Wealthfront invests money for clients looking for advice and guidance, and they also offer sophisticated money management tools.
|Read 8 Reviews|
FutureAdvisor was founded in 2010 in San Francisco, CA. The company is dedicated to advising clients about investments, helping customers plan for retirement and educating about saving for college, among many other focuses.
|Read 9 Reviews|
TD Ameritrade has roots going back to 1975. It is headquartered in Nebraska and has branches in 33 states. The large, publically-traded company offers many types of financial and investment products, including online trading.
|Read 128 Reviews|
Edward Jones Investments is a company that was founded in Des Peres, Missouri in 1922. The company offers financial advisers to help clients invest their money smartly.
|Read 50 Reviews|
Founded in 1914, Merril-Lynch is a wealth management company that is headquartered in New York, New York. The company specializes in offering clients financial advice about managing money and reaching financial goals.
|Read 221 Reviews|
E*TRADE provides a variety of financial services. Established in 1982, E*TRADE has been in the online trading industry almost since the company’s inception. It is headquartered in New York City with offices in 17 states.
|Read 300 Reviews|
Ameriprise was founded over a century ago in Minnesota. It now has offices around the world and offers clients many types of investment options with personal support and advice. Those with accounts can make trades online.
|Read 196 Reviews|
Part of the large national bank, Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo advisers offers customers a full range of investment services. The division of Wells Fargo was founded in 2001 with more than $1 trillion of client assents being managed.
|Read 12 Reviews|
BNY Mellon Wealth Management is a division of The Bank of New York Mellon, which was founded in New York in 1784. BNY Mellon Wealth Management offers services including private banking, investing, wealth management and more.
Founded in New York in 1947, Franklin Templeton Investments is now headquartered in San Mateo, California. The company is one of the world's biggest asset management companies, managing nearly $850 billion in assets.
What features matter most?
There are several types of specialized financial advisors, many of whom receive specific credentials for their areas of expertise. There are actually scores of financial advisor designations. Following are a few of the more popular financial advisor credentials.
- Registered Investment Advisor: Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are either individuals or firms registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state securities authorities. They are charged with providing advice and recommendations or writing reports about securities.
- Registered representative: Registered representatives are licensed by the SEC. They must pass the Series seven and Series 63 securities examinations and be registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This individual typically works for an investment brokerage company and may also be called a stockbroker or account executive for the firm.
- Certified Financial Planner: The Certified Financial Planner is governed by requirements set by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP). The designation holders must meet the following requirements: hold a minimum education level of a bachelor’s degree, complete coursework in financial planning and successfully complete a comprehensive exam.
- Chartered Financial Analyst: This gold standard designation is issued by the internationally recognized CFA Institute. There are extensive educational, experiential and examination requirements. CFA holders demonstrate high levels of competence in investment research and portfolio management.
- Personal Financial Specialist: The well-regarded PFS is credentialed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This professional is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)with additional training in financial and wealth management.
Financial advisors provide clients with a vast range of services, depending on the client's needs and the firm’s focus.
- Tax accounting: A CPA (Certified Public Account) is a type of financial advisor that helps clients handle, complete and submit their taxes.
- Financial planning: Financial advisors who provide financial planning advice on how to reach future life and financial goals - including information about investing, saving, taxes, estate planning and more.
- Investing: Clients who want to invest can use registered representatives or other types of financial professionals for education and assistance.
- Money and wealth management: This service provides oversight of the client’s finances including security selection and complete financial management.
- Insurance services: Many financial advisors include insurance products in their suite of money management services.
It’s important when hiring a financial advisor to check their prior record for any ethical breaches. The consumer must engage an advisor who is trustworthy and competent.
- Good compliance: Financial advisors are required to adhere to ethical codes, and clients can check a financial advisor's compliance history via records kept by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
- Firsthand client experience: Word-of-mouth is a good way to determine if clients are happy with their advisors; trustworthy financial advisors will have many clients who are happy to provide a reference.
- Rankings: Consumers may review financial publications and institutions such as Barrons Magazine that ranks financial advisors according to the advisor's ethics, success and reputation. Regardless of the ranking, potential clients should perform their own due diligence.
Clients pay financial advisors for their services, and there are various ways financial advisors are compensated. Consumers must ask the prospective financial advisor how they are paid. Look for advisors with reasonable fees, as higher fees don’t directly correlate with better investment results.
- Commission-based payments: Financial advisors who work on commission receive a fee when they buy or sell securities on behalf of the client.
- Fixed fee-based payments: Some financial advisors charge a set fee for specific services, so clients know how much they can expect to pay in advance.
- Hourly payments: Many financial advisors bill by the hour and may request a retainer fee prior to providing services.
- Management fee: Some advisors, generally those who manage the client’s complete financial portfolios, charge a percentage of the Assets Under Management (AUM) fee.
Some financial advisors provide their services to a wide range of customers, while others specialize in a particular type of client.
- Wealthy clientele: Financial advisors who gear their business towards wealthy clientele often require a minimum amount of investable assets.
- Young clientele: Financial advisors who work with young clientele tend to charge by the hour and offer services for customers who don't have a lot of assets.
- Varied clientele: Some financial advisors, particularly at large firms, work with a range of clients.
Financial advisors often work for firms or with groups of advisors, and these firms vary in size.
- Large investment firms: Large investment firms typically have dozens of advisors and work with thousands of clients, so they have experience handling all types of financial needs but may lack personal service.
- Boutique investment firms: Boutique investment firms are small to medium businesses with a small group of advisors who may limit their clientele.
- Individual advisors: Individual financial advisors may or may not be affiliated with a larger financial advisory network.
What are different types of financial advisors?
CPAs (certified public accountants) are accountants who have received the proper certification to serve as public accountants. CPAs serving as financial advisors typically have additional training and handle a range of financial services, including tax preparation.
Financial Planners are qualified investment professionals who help individuals and corporations meet their financial and life goals. They may specialize in tax planning, asset allocation, investing, risk management and/or estate planning.
Registered representatives buy and sell securities. They are utilized by people looking for help with investing and are typically employed by major investment brokerage firms.
Financial advisors are licensed financial specialists who have earned special credentials showing they are capable of helping clients handle their money, and they are held to certain ethical standards. These advisors may hold various certifying designations.
Money managers are hired by clients to oversee investment decisions for a financial portfolio. These individuals generally work for wealthy individuals, mutual funds or pension plans.
Who's it for?
The newly wealthy
Newly wealthy individuals are those who have come into a large sum of money, such as an inheritance, contest winnings or a lucrative new job. Financial advisors can help these clients understand and manage their new financial situation.
Those experiencing family and/or household changes
People who are experiencing changes in household income can benefit from professional financial planning. Changes that may call for financial advice include a new baby, getting divorced, gaining a new job or losing a job.
The financially unsavvy
People who are generally poor with money or uninformed about how to handle it can benefit from financial advisors. Financial advisors can educate their clients and help them understand the basics of personal finance.
People who own a business or are thinking of starting one can benefit from using a financial advisor with experience in both personal and business finances.
Edward Jones, a Fortune 500 company, is one of the largest financial services firms in the country. With 11,000 offices, Edward Jones has served nearly seven million clients for over 90 years.
- Best for Clients looking for a personal financial advisor dedicated to their financial needs, the newly wealthy, those experiencing family and/or household changes, the financially unsavvy and business owners.
Merrill Lynch is owned by Bank of America, one of the world’s leading financial institutions. The company serves approximately 47 million consumers and small businesses and has 4,700 retail financial centers.
- Best for The newly wealthy, those experiencing family and/or household changes, consumers looking for a financial advisor to guide them through their life planning money goals, the financially unsavvy and business owners.
Wells Fargo Advisors handles $1.4 trillion in client assets and is one of the country's leading financial services firms. The Wells Fargo Advisors serve their clientele in person, over-the-phone or online. The company brings Wall Street vision and Main Street values to their client relationships.
- Best for Wells Fargo Advisors serve consumers looking for a one-stop shop for all financial management needs, from banking to lending.
BNY Mellon Wealth Management was founded by Alexander Hamilton in the late 18th Century and has been managing wealth since America began creating it. The company serves individuals, families, family offices, planned giving programs, endowments and foundations, professionals and institutions. In 2015, BNY Mellon Wealth Management was named “Best U.S. Private Bank” by Global Finance magazine. The company serves clients across the globe.
- Best for Individuals and institutions looking for sophisticated and high level financial management services.
Franklin Templeton Investments was founded in the 1940s by Rupert H. Johnson Sr. and named after Benjamin Franklin. The company serves individual investors, institutional investors, financial advisors and registered investment advisors. The company has separate websites for the institutional investor and the registered investment advisor. Franklin Templeton serves clients across the globe.
- Best for The newly wealthy, those experiencing family and/or household changes and the financially unsavvy.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.