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A good financial planner will not make recommendations until they understand your goals and have run a long-term financial plan for you. If you meet with someone who starts talking about a financial product right away, even if they call themselves a financial planner, they are more likely a financial salesperson. A good financial planner will want to gather account statements and data on all aspects of your financial life.
Broker-dealers are regulated by the SEC, but they are not required to be fiduciaries. Rather, they are held to the “suitability standard”—they only have to prove that an investment is suitable for their client at the time of its purchase, not that the advice was in the client’s best interest. Broker-dealers typically earn a commission on sales of investments.
Investment advisors who work with retirement accounts are now held to the Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary standard. These advisors must disclose all fees and conflicts of interest. They cannot recommend products that represent a conflict within retirement accounts. In other accounts, RIAs can recommend products that represent a conflict as long as they disclose the conflict first.
Financial planners who explicitly provide financial advice and manage money for clients are considered fiduciaries. This means they are legally obligated to act in a client’s best interests, and they can’t personally benefit from the management of client assets. Instead, they are expected to manage these assets for the client’s benefit rather than their own. Fiduciary specifics can vary. Registered investment advisors (RIA), for example, are fiduciaries under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 who advise high-net-worth individuals on investments. They are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state securities regulators.