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Investor Education

Working With Financial Professionals

To offer securities or investment advice in Wisconsin, firms and salespersons must be registered (or exempt from registration). In addition, just because a firm has “financial,” “wealth management,” or “investments” in their name does not necessarily mean that the firm and its associates are registered to offer securities or investment advice. Before working with any financial professional or “broker,” be sure to check on the person’s background and qualifications.

Checking the registration of the person offering you an investment opportunity – and checking to make sure the investment opportunity itself is properly registered with the state – can save your life savings from a scam artist. To verify someone’s registration status, call the Division of Securities at (608) 266-2139 or go to FINRA BrokerCheck.

An individual should be registered as an agent of a broker-dealer or a representative of an investment adviser or both. The firm should similarly be registered as a broker-dealer or an investment adviser, or both.

This Informed Investor Advisory provides basic information on types of financial services professionals and their relationship with you as a client:

Adobe PDF DocumentUnderstanding different roles of financial professionals

In addition to ensuring that the individual is registered, checking the background of a financial professional can help you determine whether you want to work with the person in view of any other information disclosed by FINRA BrokerCheck. Consider the following questions:

How long has the person been registered?
Do they have other professional designations, such as a CFP (Certified Financial Planner)?
Have they been the subject of customer complaints, regulatory actions, or financial issues?
Is there other disclosed information that would cause you to reconsider working with the person?

Do not assume that a person holding themselves out as a financial professional or financial planner is registered to provide securities-related or investment advice. For instance, a person licensed only to offer insurance products, but not securities, will likely recommend insurance as a good fit for you regardless of your specific financial circumstances or needs.

Switching or changing advisors/brokers

Another good time to check on the status and background of your financial advisor or broker is when the person leaves their firm for another firm or to start up their own business. Check through FINRA BrokerCheck on why the person left the firm – was it voluntary? Have there been any recent problems such as customer complaints? Is the person in fact re-registered with the new organization? We’ve seen instances where a person left a previous firm and told clients that they had started a new advisory firm but were not actually re-registered to offer securities or provide investment advice.

Following your broker’s departure, you may be contacted with a request to consider transferring your account to the broker’s new firm. An informed investor will ask questions and do some research before deciding whether to transfer an account to another firm. Asking questions about the type of financial firm, the services offered, and the fees for those services, will help you decide if the new firm is a good fit for your financial goals and objectives.

You should not experience an interruption in service after your financial advisor’s departure from the firm. Check your account statement for an assignment to a new broker or for home office contact information. Be proactive – contact the firm for answers to your questions. In the absence of a prompt reassignment to another advisor, do not assume that your account is being monitored. When assigned to a new broker, review the background of that person through FINRA BrokerCheck and if not satisfactory, request another reassignment.

You have choices regarding whether to follow a financial advisor to a new firm or have your account remain at the current firm and be assigned to a new representative. If your broker leaves, find out how your account will be serviced at the current firm and before transferring your account, carefully consider whether that is the best option for you.

Robo-Advisers

Investors who are comfortable handling financial matters online have another option for investing: a robo-adviser that provides automated investment guidance based on mathematical rules or algorithms.

A typical robo-adviser collects information from investors about their financial goals, income, assets, risk tolerance, short and long-term goals and investing time horizon through an online questionnaire. The robo-adviser then uses the data to offer advice and automatically invest your assets.

Fees for robo-advisers typically are less than those charged by traditional advisers because the service is mostly automated. Since not everyone is comfortable getting all their advice online, some robo-adviser services have expanded to offer some human interaction. The cost of the expanded service varies, depending on whether you want to talk to someone online or on the phone and how often.

Be sure to consider a robo-adviser’s specific approach to investing before signing up. Robo-advisers have varying investing styles and offer different investment products. The final decision on how to allocate assets in your portfolio is up to you.

The resources below provide more information on investing through a robo-adviser.

Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI)

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)