What’s the difference between an advisor and a broker?  


Chris Farrell Jul 25, 2013 Economics Editor

Financial advisor is a generic term for describing many kinds of professionals that give advice on managing money. Problem is, anyone can call themselves a financial advisor, bringing to mind the lyrical warning from Gilbert & Sullivan: “Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream.”


That’s why most professionals earn some sort of credential from regulators and industry trade groups promoting their expertise with customers. Among the best known credentials are certified financial planner (CFP), registered investment advisor (RIA), and chartered financial analyst (CFA). 

When someone says they’re a financial advisor, immediately ask for their background and achievements. The term “financial advisor” doesn’t tell you much.

A broker typically earns a commission buying and selling assets for a customer (think real estate broker.) On Wall Street, brokers take orders from their clients to buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other securities. Wall Street brokers typically earn a commission on each transaction. Broker is also traditional shorthand for a Wall Street firm that employs many brokers.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Wall Street brokers often call themselves financial advisors. It has more of a professional ring than broker. How brokers get paid is also complicated. Some charge clients a fee, some a commission, and others a combination of the two.

Again, find out what the professional actually does, what their credentials are and how they make their money.

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