Advisors Find Creative Ways To Describe What They Do

When consumers want help with their investments and other money matters, they hire a financial planner. That’s simple enough. But for advisors figuring out what to tell clients, the question is, “What you do for them?”


In practice, financial advisors play many roles and offer a broad range of services. They may manage portfolios, offer retirement planning and even sell insurance policies and prepare a client’s taxes.

Investors sometimes struggle to understand what exactly a financial planner does — and doesn’t do — when it comes to money. To add to the confusion, advisors use different terms to describe themselves. There are tips on what to tell clients to help them see the value you bring.

The most popular terms are financial planner and financial advisor. But practitioners may opt to bill themselves as investment advisors or wealth managers.

Within these generic categories, some advisors add layers of detail to their job description. In recent years, those who provide comprehensive financial planning often call themselves holistic financial planners.

The term “holistic” implies that the advisor delivers wide-ranging services that go well beyond investment management. Examples include taxes, estate planning and strategies for budgeting and philanthropic giving.

In recent years, another twist involves advisors positioning themselves as chief financial officers for clients and their families. They may brand themselves as “your family’s CFO” and designate the client as a CEO who sets goals and makes decisions after conferring with their advisor.

Nicholas Hamilton, who runs the Hamilton Group in Greenwood Village, Colo., once referred to himself as a CFO for clients’ families. Since launching his own firm in 2017, he uses the term “multifamily office” to convey the type of work he does: addressing complex needs of ultra-high-net-worth clients.

“It’s a differentiator,” he said. “It’s holding ourselves out in a different way.”

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Choosing a distinct description can in itself weed out prospects and help advisors attract their target clientele. Because Hamilton works with wealthy individuals, he likes to start by highlighting the role of a family office.

“It cuts through who’s heard of this concept and who hasn’t,” he said. Someone who’s familiar with a family office may seek out legal and accounting services and alternative investments as well as help with family management issues such as eldercare concerns or preparing the next generation to inherit wealth.

When Hamilton mentions the concept, some people respond, “What does ‘family office’ mean?”

“We love that,” he said, adding that he knows what to tell clients who ask that. “It lets me tell our story” and describe the firm’s focus in more detail.

On the regulatory front, some terms trigger potential legal liability if planners dish out investment advice without the proper licensing from FINRA or the SEC. That’s why advisors steer clear of calling themselves “money coaches” or similar titles.

Advisors are increasingly eager to develop client relationships that extend beyond investment performance. They seek to help clients derive more meaning from their money so that they live more fulfilling lives.

Ryan Ortega, founder of Los Angeles-based Third Line Financial Planning, describes himself as a life planner. He grew fond of the term while reading about George Kinder, a longtime proponent of financial life planning.

“I’ve taken bits and pieces of what he’s doing,” Ortega said. “I used to start (with a new client) by going through the numbers. That led to them talking about their life goals and personal relationships. So I flipped it. Now I want to understand their goals and where they are in their life before we look at any numbers.” That guides what to tell clients.

Job Titles Convey Stature Or Seniority

Adopting an unusual term to guide what to tell clients to describe what you do has its risks. Despite your devotion to enhancing clients’ lives, there’s no guarantee they will respond favorably.

Ortega enjoys getting to know new clients as fully dimensional people and learning about their dreams and goals. But they may find his approach off-putting at first.

“I just want you to manage my money,” they occasionally reply.

“They might say, ‘I’m not having an existential crisis’ and they may not be familiar with the life planning philosophy,” he said. “And it’s true that any time you use any other term to describe what you do, there’s a fear you might diminish your service.”

A job title can also communicate an advisor’s experience, stature or seniority at their firm. They may use corporate titles such as principal, managing director or chief investment officer.

Samir Ahmed, a certified financial planner at Facet Wealth, has a job title of lead planner. Others incorporate “senior” into their title, calling themselves senior partners or senior advisors.

“I’m giving my clients the tools to help them grow,” Ahmed said of what to tell clients he does for them. “There’s an element of accountability” in guiding them as a lead planner to gain the knowledge they need to make sound financial decisions.


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