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  • Writer's pictureTroné Fossum

What Is a Fiduciary Financial Advisor and How Do They Help?

Updated: Jun 12

Understanding the Role of a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

What Is a Fiduciary?

A fiduciary is a financial professional who is legally and ethically bound to act in the best interests of their clients. This legal duty requires fiduciaries to prioritize their clients' needs above their own, providing customized and transparent advice.

What Is A Fiduciary?

A fiduciary must avoid conflicts of interest, disclose all relevant information, and make decisions that benefit their clients.

For example, a fiduciary financial advisor would recommend investment products that are best suited for the client's financial goals rather than those that might offer higher commissions to the advisor.

Summary of Key Points

  1. Fiduciary advisors must act in clients' best interests, avoiding conflicts of interest.

  2. Regulatory bodies like the SEC enforce fiduciary standards for advisors.

  3. Fiduciary designations include CFP, CFA, RIA, AIF, CIMA, ChFC, and PFS.

  4. Transparency and trustworthiness are essential for fiduciary relationships.

  5. Fiduciary advisors strive to lead to better financial outcomes due to customized advice.

Understanding the Role of a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Duties of a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Financial professionals under the fiduciary standard have several legal obligations:

  • Duty of Loyalty

  • Duty of Care

  • Full Disclosure

  • Best Execution

  • Ongoing Duty

Duty of Loyalty

The duty of loyalty requires financial professionals to prioritize their clients' interests above their own, ensuring that all actions and recommendations are made with the client's best interests in mind. This means actively avoiding conflicts of interest and fully disclosing any potential conflicts that could impact their professionalism.

Duty of Care

Under the duty of care, financial professionals must provide advice and services with a high level of competence and diligence. This involves conducting thorough research, utilizing accurate and complete information, and applying their expertise to make well-informed recommendations.

Full Disclosure

Full disclosure mandates that financial professionals transparently communicate any potential conflicts of interest and all material information that could influence their recommendations. This openness ensures clients are fully informed about any factors that might affect their financial decisions. By embracing full disclosure, advisors uphold the principles of honesty and transparency, empowering clients to make well-informed choices based on complete and accurate information.

Best Execution

The duty of best execution obliges financial professionals to execute client transactions in a manner that maximizes the client's advantage. This involves seeking the most favorable terms and conditions for each transaction, taking into account price, speed, and efficiency.

Ongoing Duty

A financial professional's fiduciary duty is ongoing, extending beyond the initial recommendation to cover all aspects of the client relationship. This means continuously acting in the client's best interests, monitoring their financial situation, and adjusting advice as needed over time.

Duties of a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Fiduciary Financial Advisor vs. Non-Fiduciary Advisors

Fiduciary financial advisors are legally obligated to act in their clients' best interests, prioritizing their needs above all else. Non-fiduciary advisors, such as broker-dealers, follow a suitability standard, recommending products that are appropriate but not necessarily the best for the client’s interests.

Fiduciary Financial Advisors

  • Legally obligated to act in clients' best interests

  • Must avoid conflicts of interest

  • Provide transparent and customized advice

  • Adhere to fiduciary standards and regulations

  • Focus on long-term client relationships

  • Typically include RIAs and CFPs

Non-Fiduciary Advisors

  • Required to provide suitable recommendations

  • Potential conflicts of interest may exist

  • Recommendations may be influenced by commissions or other incentives

  • Follow suitability standards

  • May focus on product sales

  • Often include broker-dealers and some financial advisors

Fiduciary Financial Advisors

Regulatory Bodies and Certifications

Regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) oversee financial advisors, ensuring compliance with legal and ethical standards. Certifications such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) signify that an advisor has met rigorous education, examination, and ethical requirements, often indicating adherence to fiduciary principles.

Types of Fiduciary Financial Advisors

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

  • Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)

  • Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF)

  • Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA), if providing financial planning services

If you're looking for an advisor, it's helpful to have a general awareness of what all the designations mean so you know what someone's specialty is and how they can help. Below, we've included a breakdown of the types of fiduciaries that may help in working to build your family's wealth.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

CFPs are for individuals seeking comprehensive financial planning; they help by creating holistic financial plans and are bound by a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their clients.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

CFAs are for investors seeking in-depth investment management and analysis; they help by providing expert investment advice and portfolio management with a strong emphasis on ethics and fiduciary responsibility.

Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)

RIAs serve individuals and businesses needing personalized investment advice; they help by offering tailored investment strategies and are legally obligated to act as fiduciaries.

Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF)

AIFs are for those seeking advisors with specialized knowledge in fiduciary responsibility; they help by ensuring that investment practices meet fiduciary standards and legal obligations.

Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

CIMAs are for high-net-worth individuals and institutional clients; they help by providing advanced investment management strategies and are trained to uphold fiduciary duties.

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

ChFCs cater to individuals needing comprehensive financial planning and insurance advice; they help by delivering expert guidance across various financial areas and typically adhere to fiduciary principles.

Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

PFS professionals, who are also CPAs, serve individuals requiring tax and financial planning; they help by integrating tax expertise with financial planning under a fiduciary duty.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

CPAs offering financial planning are for those seeking tax-centric financial advice; they help by combining tax planning with broader financial advice while upholding a fiduciary responsibility.

Benefits of Working with a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Benefits of Working with a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Trust and Transparency

Fiduciary advisors are inherently trustworthy because they are legally obligated to act in their clients' best interests, avoiding conflicts of interest. Transparency in financial dealings ensures clients are fully informed about fees, risks, and potential conflicts, fostering a trusting relationship.

A fiduciary advisor discloses all investment fees upfront, allowing clients to make informed decisions without worrying about hidden costs.

Better Financial Outcomes

Due to their commitment to acting solely in clients' best interests, fiduciary advisors may make better financial decisions for their clients, which may result in better outcomes. By providing customized advice and thorough planning, they help clients pursue their financial goals effectively.

For instance, a fiduciary advisor might recommend a low-cost index fund over a high-fee mutual fund, optimizing long-term investment returns. Whereas a regular non-fiduciary advisor may recommend a suitable mutual fund that has higher costs. They don't have to offer the "best" advice since they are not fiduciaries.

Fiduciary Financial Advisor

Common Myths about Fiduciary Financial Advisors

Myth 1: Fiduciary advisors are always more expensive.

While fiduciary advisors may charge fees for their services, these fees are often transparent and can be offset by better financial outcomes and cost savings from customized advice. Their commitment to acting in the client's best interests can lead to more efficient and effective financial planning.

Myth 2: Fiduciary advisors only work with wealthy clients.

Although some fiduciary advisors specialize in high-net-worth individuals, many serve clients across various financial backgrounds. Their services are valuable for anyone seeking comprehensive, ethical, and client-centered financial advice, regardless of asset size.

Myth 3: All financial advisors are fiduciaries.

Not all financial advisors are fiduciaries. Many, such as broker-dealers, operate under a suitability standard, which is less stringent than the fiduciary duty. It's essential to verify the advisor's fiduciary status to ensure they are legally bound to act in your best interests.

Myth 4: Fiduciary advisors are inflexible in their investment strategies.

Fiduciary advisors often offer a wide range of investment strategies tailored to meet individual client needs and goals. Their primary aim is to provide personalized advice that aligns with the client's best interests rather than pushing specific products.

Myth 5: Fiduciary duty guarantees investment success.

While fiduciary advisors are committed to acting in their clients' best interests, they cannot guarantee investment success. Nobody can guarantee exact results. However, their ethical obligations and thorough planning often lead to more prudent and well-informed investment decisions that are not excessively risky.


Fiduciary Q&A

Is an investment advisor always a fiduciary?

Not all investment advisors are fiduciaries.

Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are required to act as fiduciaries, meaning they must act in the best interests of their clients.

However, other financial professionals, such as broker-dealers, may not be held to the same fiduciary standard and instead follow a suitability standard, which requires them to recommend products that are suitable for a particular client’s needs but not necessarily in their best interests.

What role does the Securities and Exchange Commission play in regulating financial advisors?

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) plays a crucial role in regulating financial advisors, particularly RIAs.

The SEC ensures that these advisors comply with federal securities laws, protect investors, and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets. The SEC requires RIAs to register with them, adhere to strict reporting and disclosure requirements, and follow a fiduciary standard to act in their clients' best interests.

Who is the main financial industry regulatory authority in the US?

The primary regulatory authority for the financial industry in the US is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC oversees the securities industry, including the activities of investment advisors and mutual funds, to protect investors and maintain fair markets. Another key regulatory body is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which supervises broker-dealers and their registered representatives.

What are the legal obligations of a financial professional under the fiduciary standard?

Financial professionals under the fiduciary standard have several legal obligations, which include: Duty of Loyalty, Duty of Care, Full Disclosure, Best Execution, and Ongoing Duty.

Which financial professionals are fiduciaries?

The following financial professionals are generally considered fiduciaries:

  • Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs): Required by law to act as fiduciaries.

  • Certified Financial Planners (CFPs): If they provide investment advice, they are bound by the CFP Board's fiduciary standard.

  • ERISA Plan Fiduciaries: Those managing employer-sponsored retirement plans must act in the best interests of plan participants.

What is fiduciary duty?

Fiduciary duty is the legal and ethical obligation of a financial professional to act in the best interests of their clients.

This means prioritizing the client's needs above their own, providing advice, and avoiding conflicts of interest. It encompasses duties of loyalty and care, requiring the fiduciary to act with integrity and transparency in all dealings with their clients.

Do regular personal financial advisors have a fiduciary duty?

Not all personal financial advisors have a fiduciary duty. Whether they do depends on their licensing and regulatory status.

RIAs and CFPs providing investment advice typically do have a fiduciary duty, while broker-dealers and other advisors may only adhere to a suitability standard. It is essential to understand the type of advisor you are working with to know their obligations towards you.

What is the Investment Advisers Act?

There is an Investment Advisers Act in the USA, which is specifically called the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

It is a federal law that was enacted to regulate the actions and responsibilities of investment advisers. The primary goal is to protect investors and ensure that investment advisers act in the best interests of their clients.

The Act requires investment advisers to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if they manage more than $100 million in client assets.

Those managing less than this amount typically register with state regulators.

Registered investment advisers must establish and maintain comprehensive compliance programs to ensure adherence to the Act’s provisions and SEC regulations. This includes appointing a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO).

Speak with a fiduciary advisor

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Get Started with a Fiduciary Financial Advisor

If you're looking for a fiduciary financial advisor to help you with your financial planning and wealth management, we'd love to meet. At 360 Financial, we operate in a fiduciary environment. Many of our advisors are CFPs or AIFs, which means that they have a fiduciary duty. Click below to schedule a 15-minute call with a 360 financial advisor.

fiduciary financial advisor call

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


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