Our Advisors
Todd Sirrine & Jake Oyler

Navigating the Financial Advisory Landscape: Understanding RIAs, Suitability, and Fiduciary Standard

By Todd Sirrine
February 8, 2024
RIAs, Suitability, and Fiduciary Standard

In the dynamic financial planning and investment world, partnering with the right financial advisor is crucial for success. There are a variety of highly qualified advisors to choose from, each with unique strengths and expertise. You can make a better choice by comprehending the different types of financial advisors. Their responsibilities are crucial in shaping your financial future. Knowing how they can help allows you to select the right advisor confidently. This blog aims to clarify key concepts in the financial advisory realm. It covers Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), the fiduciary standard, and the suitability standard. By understanding these elements, you can make informed decisions about who manages your wealth and how.

 

The Role of Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs)

Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) and their representatives are professionals that offer personalized financial advice and wealth management services. Like traditional brokers or financial agents, RIAs and their representatives are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), or state securities authorities and adhere to stringent regulatory standards. RIAs and their advisors, however, are held to a Fiduciary Standard, while advisors not affiliated with an RIA are held only to a Suitability Standard. That difference seems minor, but the duties associated with those standards are very meaningful to you as an investor. 

Another important observation is that while a broker may hold themselves to a fiduciary standard, the law does not obligate them to do so. Therefore, while brokers may act as fiduciaries, they have a built-in conflict of interest since they may earn a commission based on what they sell. On the other hand, RIAs receive a fee regardless of what they manage, and their primary interest is the satisfaction and growth of their investors’ portfolios.

RIAs provide a range of services tailored to the individual needs of their clients. These services often include investment management, retirement planning, estate planning, and tax strategies. The goal is to offer comprehensive financial advice that aligns with the client’s long-term objectives and risk tolerance.

One of the hallmarks of RIAs is their commitment to building trust-based relationships with clients. They focus on understanding each client’s unique financial situation, objectives, and concerns, crafting strategies that resonate with the client’s life goals.

 

A Hypothetical Case Study

To grasp the concept further, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario of a couple nearing retirement. In this example, the couple approaches an RIA-based investment advisor seeking advice on planning for their retirement. The advisor conducts a comprehensive analysis of their financial situation, which includes examining their savings, investment portfolio, and retirement aspirations. Based on this assessment, the advisor crafts a customized plan that strategically balances income generation with capital preservation, aiming to secure a comfortable retirement for the couple. This fictional case study illustrates how an RIA-affiliated investment advisor might provide tailored advice that addresses clients’ specific needs and goals in a real-world context.

 

Fiduciary Duty

Fiduciary duty is the foundation of the relationship between a financial advisor and their client. It is a legal and ethical obligation that requires the advisor to act in a way that will benefit someone else financially. This duty encompasses every aspect of the relationship, ensuring that the advisor’s recommendations are made without conflict of interest and solely for the client’s benefit.

 

Fiduciary duty involves a high level of trust and confidence. It requires advisors to:

  • Put their clients’ interests before their own or their firm’s.
  • Provide full and fair disclosure of all material facts and conflicts of interest.
  • Ensure the accuracy and completeness of their advice.
  • Charge reasonable and transparent fees.

 

The adherence to fiduciary duty fosters a deeper level of trust and confidence between clients and advisors. Clients can rest assured that their financial well-being is the primary concern of their advisor, leading to more open and honest communication and more effective financial planning.

Under the fiduciary standard, advisors are legally obligated to prioritize their clients’ interests. This commitment means avoiding conflicts of interest, ensuring transparency in all dealings, and making recommendations that align with the client’s goals and risk tolerance. The fiduciary standard is not just a guideline; it’s a binding obligation that shapes every decision an RIA makes.

Clients who work with advisors under the fiduciary standard can expect a higher level of care and commitment. These advisors must provide the advice that is best for the client, not just suitable. This condition means clients receive recommendations more likely to align with their financial goals and personal values.

 

The Suitability Standard Explained

The suitability standard, often associated with brokers and insurance agents who offer financial products, requires financial professionals to recommend investment products that are “suitable” for their clients. This standard considers the client’s financial status, investment objectives, and risk tolerance. However, it does not necessarily require the advisor to place the client’s interests above their own.

An advisor is considered to fulfill the client’s suitability obligation when the advisor has a reasonable basis to believe that the customer can evaluate investment risks and when the client expresses their independent and favorable judgment of the advisor’s recommendations (FINRA).

Suitability is also about ensuring transaction costs are not excessive—with no unnecessary trading fees—and that all recommendations benefit the client considering their specific economic situation and investment experience (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission).

 

Contrasting with the Fiduciary Standard

While the suitability standard requires advisors to recommend appropriate products, it doesn’t demand the same level of care as the fiduciary standard. Advisors can recommend suitable products but may also yield higher commissions for themselves, even if a better option exists for the client.

The primary limitation of the suitability standard is that it allows for potential conflicts of interest. Advisors may be inclined to recommend products that benefit them financially, even if a more advantageous option is available for the client. This situation can lead to a trust deficit and questions about the advisor’s motivations.

 

Final Considerations

Understanding the financial advisory landscape is crucial. This includes knowing the roles of Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) and the differences between fiduciary and suitability standards. Selecting someone committed to the fiduciary standard is vital when choosing an advisor. This commitment ensures they prioritize your financial well-being above everything else.

While the suitability standard ensures that recommendations are appropriate, it may not always guarantee that the advisor’s advice is the best option for the client. Therefore, individuals must conduct due diligence, ask the right questions, and understand the standards under which their advisors operate. Here, the question arises: how can you know? The best way is to ask them directly and look for registered advisors, as the fiduciary standard legally binds them. 

It’s essential to remember that choosing a financial advisor is not just about managing investments. It’s about entrusting someone with the responsibility of guiding your financial future. Choose wisely, and let knowledge, integrity, and a shared vision for success guide your journey toward financial empowerment.

Ready to take control of your financial future? Colwyn Investments is a Registered Investment Advisor held to the Fiduciary Standard. Connect with us for a personalized consultation.

Investing From the

Inside Out

If you want to achieve your life goals and secure your assets but don’t know where to begin, questioning yourself can be a good start.

Find the why behind what you are doing and better understand your relationship with money with the help of this easy-to-follow workbook.

 

Cowlyn Investments

As fiduciaries, we provide personalized, transparent, and impactful financial advice, fostering meaningful relationships that transform financial well-being into a source of empowerment and growth.

© 2024 All Rights Reserved

Privacy Disclosure
Understand that under no circumstances will Colwyn Investments LC sell, share or otherwise provide your personal information to any non-affiliated third party except as set forth in this policy. To provide superior service our prospects and clients, it is necessary for Colwyn Investments LC to share information with third parties it is currently involved with in a contractual relationship (such as a referring financial institution). This sharing of personal information is carried out on a strictly professional basis. We share the minimum amount of information necessary for that company to offer its product or service. We may also share information with unaffiliated companies that assist us in providing our products and services to our customers; in the normal course of our business (for example, with consumer reporting agencies and government agencies); when legally required or permitted in connection with fraud investigations and litigation; in connection with acquisitions and sales; and at the request or with the permission of a customer.
Through the normal course of servicing your inquiry or account, certain agents and employees may have access to your confidential account information; this may include operations and support personnel, as well as your investment professional, and access to this information is limited and held in the strictest confidence. Information about former customers who do not currently maintain an account relationship with Colwyn Investments LC is not shared with any outside party.
If you would like more information about Colwyn Investments LC’s Privacy Policy, a request should be sent in writing to: Colwyn Investments LC, Attn: Privacy Policy, 10923 S Redwood Road, South Jordan, Utah 84095.