Outside of telling someone that you sell used cars, there aren’t many ways nowadays to shut down a conversation faster saying that you’re a financial advisor. Because, after years of being constantly bombarded by headline after headline about the plethora of misdeeds committed by so-called financial advisors, combined with so many personal experiences with high-pressure sales tactics of unscrupulous salespeople, the public’s trust levels are understandably low.
And while other professions have specific education and ethical requirements (e.g., doctors, lawyers, and accountants), sadly, there are no rules around whether or not someone can call themselves a financial advisor (or any derivation thereof). Which only makes it that much more challenging for “real” financial advisors, who not only have to differentiate themselves from all the other advisors that claim to offer comprehensive financial planning, but also have to separate themselves from literally every other person who wants to call themselves a financial/investment/wealth advisor/consultant/planner… whether or not those jobs have anything to do with the actual delivery of financial advice. Which, in turn, leads to the question: what should financial advisors call themselves… without having to start making excuses immediately afterward?
In our eleventh episode of “Kitces & Carl”, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards sit down to discuss the roots of various industry titles, why you might want to break the mold and call yourself something completely different (or not), and why the choice ultimately boils down to whether or not what you call yourself resonates with your target clientele.
From a historical perspective, the title of financial advisor originated when the industry was still very product-focused, as a way to differentiate from ‘just’ salespeople with a more consultative approach, as comprehensive financial plans themselves were originally a vehicle through which advisors could recommend (and then sell) their products. As the industry evolved, however, titles such as “wealth manager”, “investment consultant”, and “financial planner” came into the mix, as more advisors and their firms sought out new titles to differentiate and stand out from the crowd, and to sound more “high end” as advisory firms themselves have moved further up-market.
Understandably, then, many professionals in the industry would prefer stricter regulation around who can and can not call themselves any number of titles that imply that they’re providing financial advice (until/unless they’re actually in the business of advice and not product sales). Except that efforts to do just that have simply fallen flat given the vast resources and lobbying might of an industry still dominated by companies that manufacture and distribute financial products.
In the absence of any successful title reform, some advisors have decided to go with whatever standard title that most closely describes what they actually do and own it the best they can. Meanwhile, in an effort to break the proverbial mold, some advisors, particularly those with well-defined niches, have taken it a step further and adopted more creative titles that help them connect with the target audience that they want to reach (think “financial architect” or “financial physician”).
Ultimately, the key point is to make sure that your title accurately reflects the services that you provide, doesn’t get you into any regulatory trouble, and resonates with your target market. Because, in the end, what matters most isn’t what you call yourself, it’s that you’re comfortable and confident when you say it… and if you can invite people into the conversation along the way, then all the better!