Advisor vs. Adviser: Is there a Difference in Finance?

Written by Ryan Barnes, CFAUpdated: 17th Apr 2022
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It seems like such a small thing, but a one-letter difference in spelling between two words can substantially change the definition of a word. But for people seeking investment and financial planning advice, it’s vital to ensure there’s no misunderstanding between “Advisor” and “Adviser.” Do they mean the same thing? Read on as we settle the debate once and for all.

Is there a Difference Between Adviser and Advisor?

There is no functional difference between the two words; both advisor and adviser are correct spellings for someone who dispenses financial advice on behalf of clients. Financial professionals – or their employers – may choose to use either one.

The important designations are the accreditations and licenses that a financial advisor holds. Acronyms like CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), or CFP (Certified Financial Planner) that follow an adviser’s name will tell you infinitely more about the qualifications of the person than the spelling they choose for the advisor.

>> More: Best Financial Advisors

What Do Advisors Do?

Financial advisors spend their careers learning about financial markets and earning important accreditations in their field. Some advisers come to specialize in a particular area of finance, such as financial planning (for CFPs), investment management (for CFAs), or tax planning (for CPAs).

These types of financial professionals are bound by law to act as fiduciaries on behalf of the clients they work with. Fiduciary responsibility means that the adviser must always act in the client’s best interest and not their own. For example, if two different investment options are available for a client, and one is more expensive (but could earn the adviser more money for themselves), they must still choose the cheaper option for the client.

Which Is Correct, Financial Advisor or Financial Adviser?

Both spellings are correct – a qualified financial professional can refer to themselves as either an “advisor” or an “adviser.” We tend to see more “advisor” spellings in Europe and in some wealth management/high net worth contexts. Why? There’s no particular reason other than the “advisor” spelling is more of an Old English version, and some people think the “o” versus the “e” gives an extra cache to the word.

But here in the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) first outlined what an investment adviser is and how they must register with the SEC and in the states where they operate. In the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, the SEC uses the “adviser” spelling.

Do I Need an Advisor?

The universe of financial information and financial products is vast – and often intimidating. This is especially true for younger people just getting started with saving and investing. And things can seem overwhelming for people when starting to plan for retirement, welcoming a new addition to the household, or any of life’s biggest (and most expensive!) events.

Any of these life touchpoints can benefit from having a financial adviser show you the ropes about timeframes and goals and how to get where you want to go. Some people naturally prefer a face-to-face advisor relationship – even if they only meet with them once or twice a year.

Other people are fine with using a “robo-advisors” or other remote advisory options. Some people just need a one-time meeting to go over a few questions, and then they may want to manage things on their own from there. There’s no right or wrong answer other than to point out that having a solid long-term investment and retirement plan is a prudent move that everyone should take.

>> More: Best Robo-Advisors

How to Choose an Advisor

The internet age has brought newfound freedom to people seeking qualified financial advice from a professional. You no longer have to drive to an office building to meet with a financial adviser (although that option is still available). You can find solid advisers across many different organizations, from banks to brokers to stand-alone financial advisor practices and wealth management firms.

The best way to answer the question is to ask yourself what kind of advice you’re seeking. Do you just want someone to give you a broad overview of financial planning or retirement planning? In this case, you could be well served seeing if there are financial advisers at your local bank or at the institution you may already hold a 401k or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

You can also lookup financial advisors in your area that may be affiliated with investment houses like Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Raymond James, or UBS. If you want that face-to-face initial contact meeting, these firms have a national footprint and may have an office nearby. These firms will tend to focus more on the investment options side of financial planning, but they’ll also have staff experts in tax preparation and retirement planning.

Watch Out for Financial Advisor Scams

A downside of the internet age is that financial scams have become more prevalent and diverse. There is a big advantage in working with financial advisors affiliated with established financial institutions – here; you’re getting people with a strong backing behind them, constant regulatory scrutiny, and employers with too much reputational risk in allowing a financial scam to happen under their wings.

Different professional designations have different sites where you can check a person or a firm’s credentials. Registered Investment Advisers must file paperwork with both the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and in any states where they do business. The SEC has links that allow you to lookup an individual or firm’s public SEC disclosures and a link to any judgments filed against a firm or an individual.

The Public SEC Disclosures link above also does an automatic search of the Financial Industry National Regulatory Authority, or FINRA’s BrokerCheck system, which verifies if a financial professional is registered to conduct the purchase and sale of securities.

Safeguarding your most sensitive financial and personal information is critical in the digital age, and it’s always a best practice to approach anyone new reaching out to you with healthy skepticism. No reputable firm or advisor will ever have a problem with you vetting them or their employers at the outset of a new relationship.

Bottom Line: Advisor vs. Adviser

Both advisor and adviser are acceptable spellings for a financial professional legally bound as a fiduciary to act in your best interests. Whether they call themselves “advisers” or “advisors,” they will work to give you the best advice possible as you manage your life goals.

Ryan Barnes
Ryan Barnes, CFA

Ryan is a certified Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) with over 15 years of experience managing and steering hundreds of millions in client assets through complex and dynamic financial markets. Ryan’s work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Forbes, Nasdaq.com, Investopedia, and Bloomberg. Additionally, he has multiple citations in peer-reviewed papers for reporting done on the U.S. housing market preceding the Great Financial Crisis. Ryan’s areas of expertise are wealth management, financial markets, investing, and retirement planning.