What Is an Investment Advisor?

An investment advisor is any person or group that makes investment recommendations or conducts securities analysis in return for a fee. Investment advisors were defined by the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 as any person or group that makes investment recommendations or conducts securities analysis in return for a fee, whether through direct management of client assets or via written publications. An investment advisor who has sufficient assets to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is known as a Registered Investment Advisor or RIA. Investment advisors are also referred to as a "financial advisor" and could alternatively be spelled as "investment adviser" or "financial adviser."

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What's an Investment Advisor?

Investment Advisor Explained

Investment advisors work as professionals within the financial industry by providing guidance to clients in exchange for specific fees. Often, investment advisors have a level of discretionary authority, allowing them to act on behalf of their clients without having to obtain formal permission prior to executing an action. However, a discretionary authority must be formally provided by the client, and it is generally arranged as part of the client onboarding process.

Mutual fund companies are generally included in the definition of investment advisors, but stockbrokers are not as they receive fees from commissions and not asset-based compensation. Most investment advisors charge either a flat fee for their services or a percentage of the assets being managed. Generally, there are very limited conflicts of interest between investment advisors and their clients, because the advisor will only earn more if the clients' asset base grows as a result of the advisor's recommendations and securities selection.

Investment Advisor Clients

Clients can refer to various customers using the investment advisor’s services. This can include individual investors as well as corporate customers. Additionally, clients may have portfolios of any size to qualify as a client as long as any minimum requirements set forth by the investment advisor or the associated investment firm have been met.

Investment Advisor Regulation

Based on applicable regulations, investment advisors are prohibited from disseminating advice known to be deceitful or fraudulent and from acting as a principal on their own accounts by buying and selling securities between themselves and a client without prior written consent. Additional restrictions may exist depending on the state or country in which the activities are performed.

As of 2018, investment advisors or investment firms operating within the U.S. with assets totaling $100 million or more must register with the SEC. Investment advisors with lesser amounts of assets are still eligible to register but are only required to register at the state level. Additionally, records regarding investment advisors and the associated firms must also be kept in electronic format to facilitate inquiries regarding an investor’s status.

Investment advisors who are not required to register with the SEC or the state in which they operate, such as those working with venture capital funds, hedge funds and other private funds, may be required to file regular reports to the aforementioned regulators.