The Disappointing Reality of Meaningless Titles

I fear the clever marketing in the traditional financial services industry continues to confuse many people. business meeting executive boss stress work tough manager employment board company

They see the title “financial adviser,” “financial planner” or “financial” anything and expect to receive unbiased advice.

This concern makes me think of the sketch above, which I shared many years ago in a different context.

Some expectations of the financial professionals we hire can lead to enormous disappointment, since these particular titles mean nothing.

No universal standard of care exists that applies to the financial industry as a whole.

Other than the financial professionals who are fiduciaries and must act in customers’ best interest, there is no requirement to put a client’s needs first.

To understand this point, imagine you go to a Toyota dealership.

You probably walk in fully expecting the Toyota salesperson to encourage you to buy a Toyota.

That’s just the way it works, and you know there is a bias in this relationship.

You would be shocked if that Toyota salesperson said, “I think you’d be better off buying a Chevy.”vintage car happy life motivation fun old retro

But that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from everyone in the financial world.

People assume that a certain title will guarantee them something akin to the Toyota salesperson’s recommendation of a Chevrolet.

Then we’re shocked, just shocked, to discover a bias favoring the professional’s financial interests and not our own.

In fact, the marketing is so clever that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the group that oversees the broker-dealer industry, includes a disclaimer on its website:

“Financial analyst, financial adviser, financial consultant, financial planner, investment consultant or wealth manager are generic terms or job titles, and may be used by investment professionals who may not hold any specific credential.”

So don’t let the slick marketing blind you to reality.

Go into every financial relationship with your eyes wide open. 


Demand a frank conversation with any financial professional, minus any jargon, before handing over your money.

If you don’t know where to start, try the three simple questions that I wrote about last year.

Those in the financial services industry — and I count myself among them — should be embarrassed by the reality behind the clever marketing.

And you have every right to be upset.

Shame on all of us.

But now that you know what to expect, do not be surprised if a title does not guarantee you unbiased advice.

You know it can happen, so it’s shame on you if you’re shocked.


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Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner and a columnist for the New York Times, Morningstar magazine and Yahoo Finance. He is author of 2 books, The Behavior Gap & The One-Page Financial Plan. Carl lives with his family in Park City, Utah. You can find his work and sign up for his newsletter (which has an international audience) at

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