The 12 Ways to Call Yourself an Advisor – Which is Best?
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
Whichever title you use, introducing yourself with the word “financial” is enough to kill the conversation at the summer barbecue.
“I’m a financial advisor.”
Blank stare and they’re thinking, “Retreat, head for the air conditioning before she tries to sell me an annuity!” And with that they’re sprinting towards the Doritos bowl before you can slip them your business card.
Having put four babies on the planet, I’ve named more people than the average mom. I’ve learned a few things about what a name means. But before I go through the 12 advisor titles one by one, here’s a tip on what to avoid.
Stop barfing. As I said in this recent podcast, doing this will improve your marketing ROI.
Here’s an example of how people litter titles. If your LinkedIn profile says something like this you’ve gone overboard:
Bill Smith, CFA, CFP®, CIMA, AIF®, CPA, CLU, ChFC
Who are you, an emeritus professor at a famous university?
I know, I know, you worked hard to earn these designations. But who cares? Making the point by spewing acronyms (half of which nobody even knows what they mean) is overkill. People won’t look at any of them if you pile them on like this.
Choose one, maybe two, and be done with it.
Nobody cares about you. Nobody is going to read your ADV or the rambling about how you’re a fiduciary on the “about us” page of your website. Do you care about how your dentist chose the resin fillings she uses when you have a cavity? This is even less interesting than that.
Here is what I think about the 12 most common advisor titles:
- Financial advisor
This is the safest one to use, and it’s very well received by the population. This is the Toyota Corolla of advisor titles. After meeting you at the holiday party, the prospect will go home to her husband and tell him she met a financial advisor, and he’ll get the point about what she means.
However that’s where the utility of this title ends. Think about it – these words don’t really convey anything specific. What does “finance” mean in this context – planning, investments, stock options, taxes, debt counseling?
- Investment advisor
Use this only if you really want to shun people who want financial planning. It calls to mind someone who plays a stock market-oriented role, rather than one who gives holistic advice.
- Fiduciary financial advisor
There you go with fiduciary again. Nobody outside of the industry knows what this word means, and if you follow what is happening with Reg Bi, neither does the SEC.
- Financial planner
Only use this if you aren’t interested in people thinking that you manage money. This title makes people think you don’t offer investment management services. That may be the case – maybe you outsource or refer to another firm for money management – but they’ll just assume you don’t handle investments. By holding yourself out as a financial planner, you run the risk of turning people off who need investment advice.
- Wealth manager
Because you use the word “wealth” it has a bit more cache; this is the Mercedes Benz of advisor titles. People without serious money would not be inclined to think that you are interested in them if you use this title.
The word “manager” is vague enough to help you avoid labelling yourself as a planner or money manager, if you don’t want to exclude either audience.
- Financial coach
To some people this may have more of an emerging affluent connotation as you’re not really telling people they need to be wealthy in order to work with you as in #5.
This title has a more uplifting connotation because it makes people feel they’ll be encouraged by a cool person like Joe Torre. It’s definitely not stuffy or pretentious. People who are on the verge of a heart attack at the thought of doing anything fun, sporty or creative should not use this title.
- Private banker
(Gold engraved cuff links clinking sound effect)
This is a dated term originally popularized by the likes of Goldman and JPMorgan and all those private banks who deal with the uber-wealthy among us. Don’t you wish you were one of them so you could have a private banker?
Whenever I hear this term, I think of Tina Turner’s song “Private Dancer” because it rhymes with it. And any old custodian will do.
“Private banker” is a good title to use if you want snob appeal. But I’m not quite so sure after the bankers did us in during the 2008 crisis that anyone wants to do business with a bank anymore.
- Financial consultant
Fidelity and Schwab did a great job putting a corporate twist on things. The problem with this title is that it makes me think you work at Accenture.
- Personal CFO
This nonsense title should be removed from the advisor dictionary. Everybody reading this, please press the “delete” button and obliterate this term from your memory.
You’re going to be my personal CFO, really? So you’re going to write a check for me as my signatory and pay my babysitter and my health insurance? Last I checked this doesn’t seem to be the business that most of you are in.
- Financial expert
The word “expert” is a patronizing term. I use this word to get my kids to brush their teeth. “And you’re a toothbrushing expert! What a big boy, you did it all by yourself!”
I can appreciate you’re trying to give yourself some gravitas; not sure this is the way to do it.
- Portfolio manager
This has an institutional ring to it and make me think of vapid analysts on Wall Street conducting investment research on a Bloomberg terminal. Just as in #2, only use this if you want to focus on investments and shun all else.
- Financial executor
I made this one up to see if you were still reading. The spiel would be that there are enough people pushing paper; you are the one who will make sure the plan we design gets executed in real life.
Seriously, I put this in here to make the point that there’s no right or wrong, no one title that every advisor should use or not use. Whatever words you chose, make sure the meaning they have to you is what will be easily conveyed to the people you want to reach. You could say whatever you want and if it works with your target audience, that’s an effective title.
If I had to choose one title to use, it would be plain old “financial advisor.” The reason is that this is the most widely understood and will allow the prospect to quickly identify what you do. That way you can move onto what really matters: understanding them, their needs, and their life.
I sincerely thank all of you for reading this article and ones I’ve written in the past. I’m even grateful for the many of you who have decided that you hate me after reading them and gang-dragged me on Twitter.
Whatever camp you fall into, let me know what you’d like me to write about next. I’ll try my best to cover it. Send me an email or drop a comment on AP Viewpoint.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to barf meaningless cliché on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor and worked at Lehman Brothers.