How Much Do Financial Advisors Make? Understanding Salaries and Compensation Models

Financial advisors play a key role in helping individuals make informed investment decisions, plan for retirement, and manage their wealth. However, one of the most common questions people have about financial advisors is how much they earn. Financial advisor salaries can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including job title, years of experience, geographic location, and client base. Additionally, there are various compensation models used in the industry, such as fee-only, commission-based, and assets under management (AUM) fees. In this blog post, we will explore the topic of financial advisor salaries and compensation models in depth, providing insights and information to help you better understand this important aspect of the financial planning industry.

What is a Financial Advisor?

Role of a Financial Advisor

As a financial advisor, one of the most important roles you play is ensuring that your clients’ assets are allocated in a way that minimizes risk and maximizes returns. This process is known as asset allocation.

Asset allocation involves dividing a client’s investment portfolio among different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. The goal is to create a diversified portfolio that can weather market fluctuations and generate long-term growth.

Risk management is another key aspect of a financial advisor’s role. After all, investing always comes with some level of risk, and it’s up to the advisor to help their clients understand and mitigate these risks.

This might involve developing a comprehensive risk management plan that takes into account the client’s overall financial goals, investment timeline, and risk tolerance. It may also involve regularly monitoring the performance of a client’s investments and making adjustments as needed to ensure that they are aligned with their goals.

Finally, tax planning is an essential part of a financial advisor’s job. While many clients may not fully understand the complex web of tax laws and regulations, it’s up to the advisor to make sure they are taking advantage of all available tax breaks and minimizing their tax burden.

This might involve things like optimizing a client’s retirement accounts, choosing tax-efficient investment vehicles, or structuring charitable donations in a way that maximizes tax benefits.

By playing an active role in asset allocation, risk management, and tax planning, financial advisors can help their clients achieve their financial goals while minimizing risk and maximizing returns.

Types of Financial Advisors

Financial advisors can be broadly classified into three types: fee-only, commission-based and fiduciary. Understanding the differences between these types is important for investors looking to work with an advisor who will act in their best interests.

Fee-only advisors are compensated solely through fees paid by their clients. They do not receive any commissions or other incentives for recommending specific investment products or services. This compensation model is considered to be the most transparent and objective, as it minimizes conflicts of interest that could arise from commissions or other forms of compensation.

Commission-based advisors, on the other hand, receive compensation through commissions earned on the sale of financial products such as mutual funds, stocks, or insurance policies. This compensation model has been criticized for incentivizing advisors to recommend products that may not be in the best interests of their clients, in order to earn higher commissions.

Fiduciary advisors are held to a legal standard that requires them to act in their clients’ best interests at all times. They must disclose any conflicts of interest and provide unbiased advice. Fee-only advisors are often fiduciaries, but not all fiduciaries are fee-only. Commission-based advisors are generally not held to a fiduciary standard unless they explicitly state that they are acting as fiduciaries.

It’s worth noting that advisors can also use a hybrid compensation model, which combines elements of both fee-only and commission-based models. For example, an advisor might charge a flat fee for financial planning services, but also earn commissions on the sale of certain investment products.

In summary, investors should carefully consider the compensation model of any potential financial advisor when choosing one to work with. Fee-only advisors offer the most transparent and objective compensation model, while commission-based advisors may be more prone to conflicts of interest. Fiduciary advisors are legally required to act in their clients’ best interests, regardless of their compensation model.

Financial Advisor Salaries

Factors Affecting Earnings Potential

Factors Affecting Earnings Potential

Several factors influence the amount of money a financial advisor can make. The first significant factor is years of experience. As with most professions, the more experienced a financial advisor is, the higher their earnings potential. In general, financial advisors earn more as they gain more clients and accumulate years of experience.

Another factor that affects financial advisor’s earnings potential is their client base. If an advisor has a large number of affluent clients, they may be able to charge higher fees and generate more revenue. Moreover, financial advisors must consider the size of their clients’ investment portfolios since this will also affect their earnings.

Geographic location is another factor affecting financial advisor earnings potential. Depending on where an advisor is located, they may have access to more affluent clients or work in a market with a high demand for financial services, which may lead to higher earnings. For instance, an advisor working in a large metropolitan area like New York City may have more earning potential than one working in a small town or rural area.

In conclusion, several factors determine the earnings potential of a financial advisor, including years of experience, client base, and geographic location. Advisors who have a large and loyal client base and are located in areas with high demand for financial services tend to earn more than those who do not. By understanding these factors, aspiring financial advisors can position themselves to maximize their earnings potential.

Average Salaries by Job Title

Average Salaries by Job Title

Financial advisors can specialize in different areas of expertise, such as financial planning, investment management, and wealth management. The average salaries for these job titles can vary based on factors such as location, years of experience, and client base.

Financial Planner

A financial planner typically helps clients with general financial planning tasks, such as budgeting, retirement planning, and estate planning. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for personal financial advisors, which includes financial planners, was $89,160 in May 2020. However, this can range from around $43,440 for the lowest 10 percent of earners to over $208,000 for the highest 10 percent.

Investment Advisor

An investment advisor focuses on managing investments for their clients, such as selecting stocks or mutual funds based on the client’s preferences and risk tolerance. According to Payscale, the average salary for an investment advisor in the United States is around $71,000 per year. However, this can range from around $38,000 to over $130,000 based on factors such as location and experience level.

Wealth Manager

A wealth manager typically works with high-net-worth individuals and families to manage their overall financial affairs, including investments, taxes, and estate planning. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a wealth manager in the United States is around $96,000 per year. However, this can range from around $50,000 to over $200,000 depending on the firm and location.

It’s important to note that these figures are just averages and may not reflect the earnings potential of every financial advisor in these roles. Additionally, financial advisors who work as independent contractors or own their own firms may have different compensation structures than those who work for larger companies. Ultimately, the salary of a financial advisor depends on many factors and can vary widely based on the individual situation.

Comparison to Other Professions

Financial advisors are often compared to other professionals when it comes to their salaries and earning potential. In this section, we will explore how financial advisor salaries compare to those of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and engineers.

Lawyers are known for their high salaries, but financial advisors can also earn impressive amounts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for lawyers was $126,930 as of May 2020. By comparison, the median annual salary for personal financial advisors was $89,160 during the same period. However, it’s important to note that these figures can vary widely based on factors such as experience, location, and client base.

Doctors are another profession that is traditionally associated with high salaries. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for physicians and surgeons was $208,000 as of May 2020. In contrast, the median annual salary for financial advisors was $89,160 during the same period. However, it’s worth noting that doctors typically require many years of education and training before they can begin practicing, while financial advisors may be able to enter the field with less formal education.

Teachers are often seen as being underpaid, and the statistics bear this out. According to the National Education Association, the average public school teacher in the United States earned just $62,871 during the 2019-2020 school year. By comparison, the median annual salary for financial advisors was $89,160 as of May 2020. While financial advisors may face more competition than teachers for jobs, they also have the potential to earn significantly higher salaries.

Engineers are another profession that is often compared to financial advisors in terms of earnings potential. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for mechanical engineers was $88,430 as of May 2020. This is comparable to the median annual salary for financial advisors of $89,160 during the same period. However, engineers may have more opportunities for advancement and higher salaries over time.

In conclusion, financial advisors can earn salaries that are comparable to those of other highly respected professions such as lawyers and doctors. While there is certainly variation within each profession, financial advising offers a potentially lucrative career path for those who are willing to put in the hard work and build a strong client base.

How Financial Advisors are Paid

Fee-Only vs. Commission-Based

Fee-Only vs. Commission-Based

When it comes to financial advisors, there are two main compensation models: fee-only and commission-based. Each model has its own advantages and disadvantages, and understanding the differences between them is crucial in selecting the right advisor for your needs.

Fee-Only Financial Advisors

Fee-only financial advisors are compensated solely by the fees they charge for their services. They do not receive any commissions or incentives for recommending specific investments or products. This means that their advice is unbiased and focused solely on the client’s best interests.

One of the main advantages of working with a fee-only advisor is the absence of conflicts of interest. Since these advisors aren’t incentivized to sell specific products, they’re more likely to recommend investment options that align with the client’s goals and risk tolerance. This can give clients greater peace of mind, knowing that their advisor is working solely for their benefit.

However, the downside of fee-only advisors is that they can be more expensive than their commission-based counterparts. The fees charged by these advisors can vary widely and may be assessed as a percentage of assets managed, hourly rates, flat fees, or retainer fees.

Commission-Based Financial Advisors

Commission-based financial advisors are compensated based on the products they sell, such as mutual funds, insurance policies, or annuities. This means that they earn a commission for each product sold, giving them a financial incentive to recommend certain investments or products over others.

The advantage of commission-based advisors is that they tend to be less expensive than fee-only advisors since they earn their income from commissions rather than fees. Additionally, clients may be able to purchase certain financial products at a lower cost through commission-based advisors, as these advisors may have access to products at wholesale prices.

However, this compensation model also creates potential conflicts of interest. Commission-based advisors may be incentivized to recommend investments that aren’t necessarily in the client’s best interest but that earn higher commissions. This can lead to a lack of trust between the client and advisor, with clients wondering whether their advisor is truly acting in their best interest.

In conclusion, both fee-only and commission-based advisors have their pros and cons. It’s important for clients to understand these differences and select an advisor whose compensation model aligns with their needs and goals. Ultimately, it’s crucial to work with an advisor who puts the client’s best interests first and foremost, regardless of their compensation structure.

Asset Under Management (AUM) Fees

Asset Under Management (AUM) Fees

Asset Under Management (AUM) fees are a common compensation model used by financial advisors. This fee structure charges a percentage of the client’s assets that are under management as a fee for the advisor’s services.

Percentage-Based AUM Fees

The most common type of AUM fee is a percentage-based fee, where the advisor charges a percentage of the assets they manage on behalf of their clients. This fee ranges from 0.25% to 2% of the total assets under management, depending on the advisor’s experience, qualifications, and the complexity of the client’s portfolio.

For example, let’s say an advisor has $1 million of a client’s money under management and charges a 1% AUM fee. The advisor would earn $10,000 annually from this client.

Flat Fee AUM

Another type of AUM fee is a flat fee charged regardless of the size of the client’s portfolio. This fee is typically used for smaller accounts that do not generate enough revenue for a percentage-based fee to make sense.

For example, an advisor may charge a $2,500 annual fee to manage a client’s $100,000 portfolio. This fee structure can be attractive to clients with smaller portfolios who want to work with a financial advisor without paying a high percentage of their assets under management.

Tiered Fee AUM

Tiered fee AUM structures are based on different percentages charged at different levels of assets under management. For example, an advisor may charge 1% for the first $500,000 under management, 0.75% for the next $500,000, and 0.5% for any assets over $1 million.

This fee structure is beneficial to both clients and advisors, as it rewards the advisor for growing the client’s assets under management while also giving the client a break on fees as their portfolio grows.

In conclusion, AUM fees are a popular compensation model used by financial advisors. The three most common types of AUM fees are percentage-based, flat fee, and tiered fee structures. When selecting an advisor, it’s essential to understand the different fee structures and how they will impact your portfolio’s performance.

Other Compensation Models

Other Compensation Models

Apart from fee-only and commission-based compensation models, financial advisors may also use other methods to charge their clients. These alternative compensation models include hourly rate, project-based, and retainer.

Hourly Rate

Some financial advisors charge an hourly rate for their services, similar to the way lawyers or accountants charge by the hour. This can be an attractive option for clients who only need occasional advice or assistance with specific financial matters. However, it can be challenging for advisors to accurately estimate how much time a particular project or task will take, and clients may be hesitant to engage with an advisor who charges by the hour without knowing the total cost upfront.


Financial advisors may also charge clients on a project-by-project basis. For example, if a client needs help creating a budget or developing an investment strategy, the advisor may charge a fixed fee for that particular project. This compensation model can work well for both parties since the client knows exactly what they’ll pay upfront, and the advisor can focus on completing the project efficiently without worrying about hourly rates.


Another compensation model used by financial advisors is the retainer model. In this scenario, the client pays the advisor a set fee each month or year in exchange for ongoing financial planning services. This model can be beneficial for clients who want regular access to their advisor and ongoing help managing various financial tasks, such as retirement planning, tax preparation, or estate planning. It can also be an attractive option for advisors since they have a predictable income stream.

Each of these compensation models has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the client’s needs and preferences. Financial advisors should be upfront and transparent about their fees and compensation models, so clients can make informed decisions about which model works best for them.
Financial advisors play a vital role in helping individuals and businesses manage their finances, plan for retirement, and achieve long-term financial goals. The salaries of financial advisors can vary significantly based on factors such as experience, client base, and geographic location. However, regardless of compensation models or average salaries, it is important to select a financial advisor that is trustworthy, knowledgeable, and has your best interests in mind.

By understanding the roles and types of financial advisors, salary potential, and various compensation models used in the industry, you can make informed decisions about your finances and choose an advisor that aligns with your goals and values. Remember, financial planning is a long-term process, and having a trusted advisor by your side can make all the difference.

In short, financial advisors provide invaluable guidance and support and can help you navigate complex financial situations with ease. By investing time and effort into finding the right advisor and educating yourself on the intricacies of financial planning, you can set yourself up for a lifetime of financial success.

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