Clay Budach, CFP®

Clay is a Wealth Management Advisor for Custom Wealth Planners. Clay enjoys writing on topics of retirement planning, taxes, and industry related news. Learn more about Clay here.


In the dynamic landscape of financial planning, the journey is just as vital as the destination. Clients, seeking reassurance from professionals who understand their distinct needs, often find the industry’s lack of clarity a significant obstacle. This article aims to shed light on the ambiguity of the financial advisory field by highlighting the various relationships one can have with a financial advisor, emphasizing the commitment to ethical standards, competence, and the client’s best interests.

Choosing the Right Relationship with a Financial Advisor

In the ever-evolving realm of financial advice, the rise of independent fee-only advisors acts as a counterforce to transactional norms that have historically dominated the industry, such as insurance and mutual fund sales. Independent Fee-Only advisors are committed to maintaining the highest standards of competency and are always required to act in a fiduciary capacity, putting the client’s interests first. They cannot receive commissions or kickbacks for selling financial products, ensuring the highest legal and ethical standards in the industry. As clients seek financial guidance, distinguishing between traditional, sales-focused models and the transformative approach of independent advisors becomes increasingly crucial. This article explores the spectrum of advisory relationships, providing insight into diverse models that define client-advisor dynamics.

1. Full-Service Advisory Relationship:

Considered the premium relationship in the financial advice industry, this approach goes beyond investment management to include comprehensive financial planning. Covering areas like retirement, tax, estate, insurance, education planning, and more, these relationships are dynamic and ongoing. Advisors proactively provide advice and follow up on planning issues throughout the year. Collaboration with external partners, such as CPAs, estate attorneys, or insurance advisors, is integral to this service model. Advisor-managed portfolios, aligned with clients’ broader needs, make this relationship ideal for delegators who value their time but seek an expert partner to navigate life’s uncertainties and capitalize on opportunities.

2. Fee For Project Relationship:

Similar advice scope to the full-service relationship, but with a defined start and end date. Suited for the do-it-yourselfers or those seeking a second opinion, this relationship allows clients to “test-drive” a potential advisory firm. While investment guidance is provided, clients are responsible for implementing planning recommendations. Fee-only advisors, crucially, cannot receive compensation through commissions on product sales, ensuring their advice remains unbiased and aligned with the client’s best interests.

3. Commission (Transactional) Relationship:

The traditional commission-based model, once prevalent, is fading as client-focused relationships gain prominence. Influenced by the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Standard, the shift is towards transparent fee structures and client service-centered relationships. Advisors attempting to blend this model into a full-service advisory approach may introduce conflicts of interest. Working with a fee-only advisor eliminates these conflicts, ensuring a broader toolkit and a focus beyond product sales. In certain instances, a commission-based relationship may be appropriate but the scope of the engagement is limited to the advisor’s suite of products. 


As clients navigate the financial advisory realm, the diversity of relationships presented here mirrors the evolving landscape. The key lies in aligning qualitative requirements, such as personality and trust, with the right advisory relationship. While the traditional comprehensive financial advisory relationship may not be universally suitable, technological advancements empower individuals to manage investments independently. Nevertheless, the need for a detailed plan and recommendations remains. With personal finance emotions in play, a financial advisor’s role as a guide through turbulent waters becomes evident, providing a buffer against the pitfalls of emotional decision-making.

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