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They usually take fees as a portion of your total investment, commission on certain investments or products, or both.
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The last thing you want to worry about when you start saving for retirement is how much money someone else will earn off your investments. If you work with a financial advisor, managing your funds is their job, but exactly how do financial advisors make money? They usually make money from fees, investments, or a combination of the two.
We’ll dig in below to explore the different types of investor income models and what they mean for your money. We’ll also point out what to look for so you know how much is too much to spend on a financial advisor.
Most financial advisors make money by charging fees, earning commissions from selling certain financial products, or a combination of the two.
If a firm employs a financial advisor, they may earn a salary and performance-based bonuses instead of drawing their earnings from fees or commissions.
Some advisors earn money solely from fees, called fee-only financial advisors. The most common way for advisors to charge this fee is as a percentage of the assets you’ve invested with them, called an assets under management (AUM) fee. So if you invest $1 million at a 1% AUM, you’ll pay a $10,000 fee.
AUM fees aren’t the only fee structures you might see from an advisor, though. Some charge flat rates based on the service you choose, some charge by the hour, and others still get bonuses based on your investment performance.
While fixed-rate and hourly fees and performance bonuses usually don’t fluctuate, it’s common for AUM fees to change based on the dollar amount you’ve invested. This typically leads to lower percentages charged as you invest more money or your earnings increase.
For example, while you’re charged 1% on that $1 million in the bank from the example above, you might be charged 0.9% on a balance of $3 million.
Commissions are earnings from the sale or trade of a certain financial product like a mutual fund. Most advisors who earn commissions will earn them on top of a fee, known as fee-based financial advisors. This is because your purchase of those commission-based assets isn’t guaranteed, and you’ll still need to compensate the advisor for managing the rest of your fund.
This pay structure can lead to a conflict of interest for a few reasons.
Registered investment advisors (RIAs) are held to a fiduciary standard when they register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This requires them to act in your best interest at all times – meaning they should focus on reducing your taxable income and growing your investments, not padding their pockets.
If you’re considering a fee-based financial advisor, make sure you understand the terms of their commission incentives and don’t agree to any investments you don’t understand.
According to the most recent available data, the average AUM fee for a financial advisor is between 0.59% and 1.18%.
All averages in this table are sourced from an AdvisoryHQ study.
Robo-advisors are a way to reduce the cost of investment advice, using algorithms to choose between investments. They might help you make sense of tax-deferred or tax-free investments, but they’re usually less costly because they require little (or no) human involvement, leading to lower fees. The same study above pegs the average robo-advisor fee in the 0.25% to 0.5% range.
However, some investment apps charge a flat rate to create your financial plan. This means they don’t mess with AUM fees and instead charge a rate depending on your financial goals and how much you have to invest.
We get it: These fees are a huge party pooper when it comes to getting excited about investing. But if you want financial advice and don’t want to DIY your investment strategy (like most people), then you’ll likely have to shell out at least some money in return.
If a financial advisor is registered, it makes comparing them to other advisors a little easier.
The first thing you should do when looking for financial advisors is search the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IADP) database. It’s free for anyone to use, and a financial advisor will only show up there if they’ve completed Form ADV.
The form (and the database) highlights certain info for client transparency, like an advisor’s professional history, how they structure their fees, and their asset mix. You can then research these assets to get an idea of typical gains and losses and compare that against the advisor’s fee to determine if you want to use their services.
However, there’s not enough available data to measure the exact success rate of advisors. Investing doesn’t offer guaranteed returns, and there’s always some risk to taking the plunge and putting your money on the line.
Financial advisor returns on the brain? Check out these frequently asked questions.
Only 28% of rookie advisors continue in their careers, according to data from Cerulli Associates. Most estimates put the success rate of financial advisors after three years at 10% or less.
Yes, millionaires use financial advisors. In fact, financial advisors will often charge a lower percentage fee the more money you invest with them. And millionaires often have highly diversified portfolios, meaning they’re especially difficult to manage without a little professional financial help.
Financial advisors can make commissions from a mutual fund if their client invests in it, so long as the advisor is also a broker.
Financial advisors are there to make you money, though not all advisors will act in your best interest. Plus, they can charge hefty fees that might hamper your investment growth and add to your retirement timeline.
Though, not all advisors charge heavy AUM fees. Instead, some services charge a low flat rate to create an airtight financial plan and boost your net worth. You can also work on minimizing your tax bill, which is the best way to grow your investments over time and see higher returns.