Many of us, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, no longer hesitate to search for and purchase services and products online. As part of this dynamic, we gravitate toward rankings and “best of” lists. But what if you’re new to financial planning? You’re still just as interested in finding one of the best financial advisors in D.C.
When you’re searching an unfamiliar topic, though, you may not know how to evaluate the companies that appear in your search results. This dynamic most certainly applies to financial planning, where paid ads and corporate websites can be difficult to navigate. With that in mind, we thought D.C.-area residents might value a review of what we see when we search for the best financial advisors around the DMV.
Who Are the Best Financial Advisors in Washington, DC?
While there certainly isn’t a single company or individual who deserves to be the sole answer to this question, it’s important to understand why you might consider one advisor — based on the most fundamental qualifications — better than another at the outset of a consumer’s search. It’s also important to understand what happens when you ask this question online — who is answering the question, how they arrived at their conclusions, and what they may wish to promote or sell.
Finding a Financial Advisor Near You
The decision to work with a financial advisor can be stressful for many people. We live in a society where discussing personal finances still remains taboo. The industry’s lack of transparency around fees, conflicts of interest, and even the advice process itself doesn’t help. To start, some people prefer to ask a friend or family member if they would recommend a financial advisor that they know. Others, however — young adults, in particular — don’t want to work with their parents’ financial advisor and opt to seek out a professional who better understands their specific life circumstances.
In this latter situation, people may simply turn first to Google. Personally, I would conduct the same search I occasionally use for restaurants, a trip, or certain clothing items: what do more experienced reviewers think are my best options? This search can be productive when relatively unbiased, thorough organizations create a post or webpage that you encounter pretty quickly in Google’s search results. The search becomes problematic, though, when a research vacuum exists and companies with less helpful or straightforward agendas are able to dominate the Google search results.
Searching “best financial advisor washington dc”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happens when I type “best financial advisor washington dc” in my Google search bar. In my browser, I can see three results at the top — all of which are paid advertisements (by Zoe Financial, Charles Schwab, and PNC Wealth Management); perhaps these are good options, but it’s valuable to notice that they only appear because the companies have the money to pay Google for visibility.
Once I start to scroll, I’m offered a large Google map that highlights three financial planning companies (Manna Wealth Management, Financial Advisor For You, and Northwestern Mutual), all of whom Google presumably recommends based on the location my computer provides. Yet, the map displays a pretty large swath of central Washington, D.C., which is home to many more financial advisors than the map suggests. Google may feature those three companies for positive online reviews, but even if that’s indeed the case, two of the three companies have only one or two reviews.
Beyond Financial Advisors Ads and Random Maps
Beyond the ads and map, the search results begin to get more promising — and confusing. Washingtonian magazine’s “Best Financial Advisers” list gets top billing, which is far from the worst-case scenario. After all, Washingtonian isn’t trying to sell you any financial products and their list is based on peer voting. In the absence of other good ways to vet financial advisors, this list would offer a decent starting point. That said, there are better ways, and Washingtonian’s list has as much to do with popularity and visibility within the financial services industry as with truly important criteria, such as the Certified Financial PlannerTM credential.
Further down the first search results page, a few other websites offer “best financial advisor” lists and reviews, but they’re produced by industry members. SmartAsset, the blog CarefulCents, and the website “Senior Finance Advisor” all claim to give you the “top financial advisors in Washington, DC,” but they merely rank their lists according to total assets under management (AUM). If working with the largest possible company appeals to you more than any other variable, then you may find these lists useful. If you’re not wealthy or don’t want to pay an advisor based on the size of your investment portfolio, though, you may want to focus your search elsewhere. I can’t help but note that CarefulCents humorously had their article “approved” by a “banking expert,” which has zero bearing on you finding the right financial advisor for your life.
Navigating Financial Advisor Lists and Reviews
Expertise.com, which is a Seattle-based company that creates online ranking lists for over 200 different industries, offers a “Top 21” financial advisor list based on companies’ “reputation, credibility, experience, availability, and professionalism.” Expertise gets credit for making an effort at transparency, but it remains unclear how much the website knows about financial advice (they rank 200 industries!) and how they evaluated the different criteria they list.
Lastly in this group, a local advisory firm, Glassman Wealth Services, offers their “review of the best financial advisors” in the area. Founder Barry Glassman likely has good intentions here, aiming, as he says, to “recommend other financial advisors that I believe are better suited to your needs.” As with Washingtonian, you can do far worse, but the Glassman Wealth Services list doesn’t include essential details (Do they have the CFP® credential? Are they fee only? Do they require a minimum asset size?) about each company on the list that should be important for your search.
Financial Advisor Directories Worth Your Attention
Yelp and Angie’s List also both appear on the first search results page, but I’ll assume that most people are familiar with how these sites operate.
Instead, I’ll turn my attention to the one truly helpful search result that you can find within 15 seconds of scrolling: FeeOnlyNetwork.com’s “Washington, DC Fee-Only Financial Planners” (note that it’s the only one to which I’m willing to link). The only financial advisors who may call themselves Fee Only Network members must be independent financial advisors who “meet the strict education, compensation and ethics standards of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), which includes having the Certified Financial PlannerTM credential and using a fee-only compensation model. Depending on your particular location and search terms, you may come across a few similar organizations and search directories, including NAPFA, the Financial Planning Association’s Planner Search site, the XY Planning Network (which specializes in serving Gen X and Gen Y clients), or even the advisors who make up the D.C. Financial Advisor Collective.
The True Best Financial Advisors in Washington, D.C.
The best financial advisors in Washington, DC, often aren’t found in a top-10 list, review article, or even from a friend’s referral. The “best” financial advisor is highly specific to your family’s questions, concerns, and goals, no matter how much in assets the advisor manages or how many social media followers they have. The key to maximizing the odds that you find someone to help you depends on checking off a few essential boxes, and then from that group, selecting someone who speaks to your needs and interests. At the very least, require that any financial advisors you consider:
- Hold the Certified Financial PlannerTM credential, the highest in the industry
- Swear a fiduciary oath, meaning that they will always put the client’s best interest first
- Do not sell financial products or receiving commissions, and instead earn compensation through a “fee-only” structure
- Have not been subject to any disciplinary action, which you can verify at FINRA’s BrokerCheck website
At this point, you’re in a better position than most people, including our parents — who had far fewer great options than we now have. Among this group, you can review a few advisor websites, check out their videos, social media channels, and/or publications, and then pick one or two that seem like they will mesh with you. You’re now that much closer to getting on the financial path that you seek, and perhaps even working with someone that you would call one of the best financial advisors in Washington, DC.