What’s in a name?

I love to display my ignorance for all to see!

Currently, I am struggling with the huge range of different names advisory firms are giving themselves to describe what they do.

So, I decided to undertake a hugely scientific analysis to help you all – I asked my mates on Facebook!

Facebook is where I generally keep up with old mates, so there are very few industry people on there!  Most are around my age (26 obvs), and so represent current and future clients.  Also, they are a very wide range of ‘demography’ as I think marketing type people call them – different careers, sexes, races and religions.  I presented the question by listing the different names and asking which they would go to and what they would expect from each.

The question was presented as follows:

‘There have been significant changes in regulations and our clients are now moving from an industry to a profession. 

The problem is they are having something of an identity crisis and give themselves loads of different names.  What I want to do is see what the general public make of all these different names.

I would be really grateful if you could let me have your first instinctive response to each of the following, please (try to resist the temptation to be too witty!!) and an outline of what you think you would get from them.  Also, tell me who you who select first if you needed any guidance on your money affairs.’

I was trying to keep it as neutral as possible, to not influence any selections.  The choices in titles were:

  • Financial Adviser
  • Financial Planner
  • Financial Consultant
  • Financial Planning Consultant
  • Chartered Financial Planner
  • Certified Financial Planner
  • Life Planner
  • Wealth Manager
  • Wealth Adviser
  • Asset Manager
  • Family Life Office
  • Private Client Manager
  • Fiduciary

The results are summarised here for you, showing proportionate values for each term:


People responded well to the idea of qualification like Certified and Chartered and also with some of the comments, people demonstrated they understood the distinction with ‘planning’ being about more than advice.

Nonetheless, people most took to plain vanilla ‘Financial Adviser’, with the rationale that it does just what it says.

Take from this what you like, but always challenge the accepted norms in your business – what we consider to be perfectly reflective of what we do may actually alienate clients.

Does this mean some people are swimming against the tide with funky titles, or do we all need to put a concerted effort into educating the public – which is easier and which gives the greatest value?  I don’t know.

One thought I will leave you with, though, is picture yourself at a dinner party answering the question, ‘what do you do for a living?’ When I was regulated, I used to answer that with ‘a financial consultant’ because it sounded sexier than ‘financial adviser’!  Should you go for something people recognise or that actually sounds sexier?  At the end of the day, imagine what it is like for me being asked the same question – I usually get the reply ‘power-what?’!

If anyone wants to get in touch, I have collated some of the expanded thoughts – oh, and here are some of the less than serious responses I got….

  • Financial Planning Consultant Sounds like a town planner
  • Chartered Financial Planner Sounds like a medieval town planner
  • Certified Financial Planner Sounds like a town planner with issues
  • Family Life Office Sounds like a family planning clinic
  • Fiduciary  –  WTF?!





6 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  • Damian

    I liked this, and I think proves that the issues are largely in our own heads within financial services. Clients don’t understand, and mostly don’t care.

    I’ve been introduced by clients as “my pensions man” in the past.

    We also don’t help ourselves when answering the question about what we do, with a statement about who we are. “I am a… (pick a title)” says less than “I help (ideal client type) to (the problem we are trying to solve)… which is actually the correct answer to the question asked.

    The problem is that lots of us haven’t been able to articulate who our ideal clients are, and what we actually do for them.

  • Thanks Brian.

    Great point about who the firm has designed the proposition for. I would be pretty comfortable suggesting most firms are targeting ‘mature, at or in retirement with excess of £200,000 to invest’ types.

    Based on this, it would be great to understand the research the firm does into their target market before creating the title.

    When we started over 11 years ago, we were having to explain what Paraplanning was and then why people should outsource it! That was why I created the name of the business as it is – kind of sums it up really.

    As it is, we have had loads of education in the profession and people have kind of got past the debate about what a Paraplanner is, so I think we as a business have been lucky.

    Are the public getting the same education about the meaning of the different names? I know that financial planning week is something people in the profession participate in very actively, but it needs more really, so what do we do in the meantime?

  • As you say a little unscientific Damian.

    That said, interesting information and a little surprised to see Certified rank higher than Chartered.

  • A little unscientific, Paul??!!

    I’ll have you know I made sure it wasn’t scientific, thank you very much!

  • If you look at the matter from the other end you see a wide variation in names in use – which is unusual for a profession. The goal should be to try and establish a single word or two which everyone, within the profession and outside, recognises as the core discriptor. Like Doctor, Solicitor etc. Then, once that’s achieved we can develop some embellishments. The current approach tries for differentiation but that’s never going to work when those consuming the service have little idea as to what thing the differentiated title is seeking to be different from.

  • Hi Damian, whilst your sample seems rather small, I suspect that it’s pretty representative. Realistically do most people care about the hair splitting that most of us have got involved with?…most people want easy cover-all terms as has been suggested… Doctor, Lawyer…the term is generic and then the specialism is described later, not in the title…well generally anyhow. Which really means using a term like Financial Adviser or Financial Planner…that’s what we do. We may manage money or wealth, (but if that’s all we do then we are investment managers)..have a holistic approach to engage their values and lifestyle… Hey it’s just my opinion… I noticed that you didn’t ask about the independent term…any particular reason?

    Taking a religious example, the doctrine of say a Christian or Muslim is invariably denoted by their sect… For Christians: Baptist, Southern Baptist, Anabaptist, Lutheran, United Reformed, Mennonites, Evangelical, Conservative evangelical, Free, Charismatic, Catholic, Anglican, Progressive, Quaker and so on… There are hundreds, probably thousands, all essentially disagreeing about the same/some thing and redefining it by their position. Those in this world understand the doctrinal hair splitting, most of us really aren’t interested enough.

    When you hear terms like “Bankers” it is used generically to describe an investment professional that invests money in assets for a financial gain.. in a major city, yet many people confuse it with your high street bank manager, because the banks needed bailing out right? So in this case there isn’t enough definition… Ok you and I may say retail rather than investment… But you understand me right? .. Even then retail is vague as we confuse it in other aspects of our work. Clarity or clarification comes with dialogue or frankly being arsed to do a bit of reading…. And let’s face it, if most people cant be bothered to save or budget, worrying about a title is all rather pointless…which was demonstrate by your awareness of the potential responses & the actual ones.


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