All investment advisors registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or a state securities regulator must act as fiduciaries. Broker-dealers, stockbrokers and insurance agents are only required to fulfill a suitability obligation. This means that while they must provide suitable recommendations to their clients, they don’t have to put their clients’ interest before their own.
Some financial professionals such as investment brokers and insurance agents aren’t bound by fiduciary duty. Instead, they’re only required to fulfill a suitability obligation. While fiduciaries must put their clients’ best interests before their own, financial professionals who adhere to the suitability standard must only provide suitable recommendations to their clients.
You should also request a copy of a financial advisor’s Form ADV and Form CRS, which is paperwork the SEC requires advisory firms to file. This will provide information about an advisor’s business, pay structure, educational background, potential conflicts of interest and disciplinary history. That information is also available online through the SEC’s Investment Advisor Public Disclosure (IAPD) tool. You should also request a performance record and list of client references to contact.
Outside of Quebec, there are currently no restrictions, no educational prerequisites, and no licensing requirements for individuals calling themselves financial planners, or for businesses using "financial planning" in their name or services offered. As of July 2020, Ontario and Saskatchewan have introduced legislation to regulate financial planning titles, but the legislation has yet to be enacted.
Asking someone whether they’ll beat the market is a pretty good litmus test for whether you want to work with them. What they should be promising is good advice across a range of issues, not just investments. And inside your portfolio, they should be asking you about how many risks you want to take, how long your time horizon is and bragging about their ability to help you achieve your goals while keeping you from losing your shirt when the economy or the markets sag.
The most commonly held professional designation is the certified financial planner (CFP®), which is owned and issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., a nonprofit certifying and standards-setting organization that administers the CFP exam. Certified financial planner is a formal credential of expertise in the areas of financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement. The designation is awarded to individuals who successfully complete the CFP® Board’s initial exams, then engage in ongoing annual education programs to maintain their skills and certification.