Financial decisions in our youth can be simple. How much can I afford to pay in rent? Should I budget for two meals out a week or four? What amount of car payment can I afford?

As we get older, however, our finances—and our financial decisions—can become more complex. As we accumulate wealth and begin thinking about the financial side of issues such as retirement, second homes, and leaving an inheritance, most of us could use some guidance. That’s where wealth management comes in.

 

What is wealth management?

Wealth management is an individualized financial planning service for highly affluent clients. These individuals work with either a single wealth manager or a financial advising team that provides comprehensive services and has expertise in a wide range of financial services and products.

 

banking

 

What is a wealth manager?

Serving as personal consultants, wealth managers focus on issues that affect extremely wealthy clients, such as managing estate tax rules. They spend time getting to know their clients, including their financial and life priorities.

Along with answering questions and meeting with their clients, wealth managers often coordinate legal and accounting services for them as well. Wealth managers help clients with all financial planning needs, whether it’s setting up a trust for your grandchildren or working through how tax rules impact your business’s income.

Wealth managers provide across-the-board financial services, working with clients on all aspects of their financial holdings and decisions. Clients looking for a single service, such as help with retirement planning, may find it is more efficient to work with a financial planner who offers a la carte services. Similarly, individuals who are interested in guidance creating an investment strategy may want to consider a portfolio manager, who will offer advice on maximizing returns and minimizing risk but won’t provide additional financial services.

Wealth managers provide many services. These include estate and tax planning; accounting; retirement planning; providing legal guidance on finance-related matters; offering investment management and advice; setting up trusts and foundations; creating a plan for charitable giving; engaging in risk management; and planning for Social Security benefits.

Your initial meetings with a wealth manager may be more conversational as you talk through your personal and financial goals. A wealth manager will need to be familiar with the entirety of your finances as well as your financial history, hopes and plans for your future, and the legacy you want to leave. Using all this information, a wealth manager will craft a financial strategy that will meet all of your goals.

 

How do I find a wealth manager?

Generally, there are two types of wealth managers. Large firms such as Merrill and Morgan Stanley offer wealth management experts along with banking and other types of financial services. Smaller independent firms, on the other hand, may provide a more personalized experience.

Either way, you’ll want to make sure that the wealth manager you choose is certified. Only one certification specific to wealth management, the certified private wealth advisor (CPWA) is available.

Financial advisors with this certificate are qualified to work with clients whose net worth is at least $5 million. The certified financial planner (CFP) and chartered financial analyst (CFP) certify a professional in general financial planning practices and are valuable certifications for wealth managers.

You can start looking for a local wealth manager through online search. This should provide information about large financial institutions and small private firms in your area. You also could ask around. Word of mouth can be a valuable tool in finding a qualified professional that others— especially peers who have similar levels of wealth and financial situations—recommend.

The cost of wealth management services typically is based on a percentage of the client’s assets that are being managed. That means the more financial assets you have, the higher your fees will be. Firms may also add other charges—Morgan Stanley, for example, charges fixed fees for specific accounts and services. It’s important to talk to your wealth management advisor about their rates and fees before agreeing to work together.

 

Laptop on desk with finances

 

What if I prefer online services?

If you’re more comfortable behind a computer screen, many financial institutions offer wealth management service online—although you’ll lose the personal touch of face-to-face meetings. Meetings can be moved to the phone or a video conference while much of the financial information is provided online.

Some online services offer unlimited access to a human financial provider or team of providers for a flat annual fee that’s determined by the services you need and how complicated your financial needs are. Other services calculate fees based on a percentage of your assets. The downsides for some of these services, especially when they offer a team approach, is that you may not consistently work with the same financial adviser.

Regardless of the criteria you use to select a wealth management service, it’s vital to think through your needs and research your options thoroughly. You have spent a lifetime building up your wealth. Your financial decisions often will impact your family for decades or more to come. This means it is important to work with a qualified wealth manager who takes the time to understand your financial situation and long-term goals.