An affluent retiree aiming to visit all seven continents might define wealth management far differently than a 30-something small business owner looking to push his or her enterprise past those crucial first three years. Talk to a banker and a stock broker about wealth management, and you’re bound to get two very different opinions. Here’s the trouble: Everyone’s definition would be correct.

That’s because, in the world of finance, wealth management isn’t just one thing; it’s everything. It’s like financial planning, but more comprehensive.

Broadly speaking, wealth management rolls financial and investment advice, risk and insurance planning, accounting, taxes, retirement planning, legal advice, estate planning and more into one. Someone who is managing your wealth keeps an eye on all these disparate pieces of your financial picture and weaves them together in a way that keeps you on track to achieve your long-term goals.

However, wealth management isn’t simply a practice in number-crunching and moving funds from account to account – it goes far deeper than that. Here are some of the key characteristics that make wealth management truly unique.

IT'S ALL-ENCOMPASSING

If you have a life insurance policy, you worked with a rep or an agent. For that business loan, you probably met with a banker. During tax season, you might head to an accountant’s office to crunch the numbers. Need legal advice? You ring an attorney.

All these people are working in your best interest when you lean on them for help, but they’re also swimming in their individual lanes. No one is necessarily seeing your entire financial picture. For example, given your current asset allocation in your retirement funds, how does a whole life insurance policy fit? That’s not of much concern to a banker putting together a loan, but it certainly would be to an advisor practicing wealth management.

Every financial product or service you purchase affects your overall risk profile, your asset mix and the path that leads to your finish line. An advisor specializing in wealth management will make sure no individual piece upsets the balance of the whole.

IT OPTIMIZES YOUR PLAN

Given you’re reading an article about wealth management, there’s a good chance you’re already doing a lot of the right things to reach your financial goals. A financial professional isn’t going to change your destination, but they might help you arrive a little sooner.

You can compare wealth management to a mapping app like Waze. When you type in a destination, you get an optimal path from point A to B. But if there’s an accident or heavy construction, Waze will suggest alternative routes to circumvent those traffic headaches and save you time. Your destination is the same, but you took a slightly different route to get there.

Likewise, an advisor can make subtle changes – say, allocate a little more of your portfolio into a certain sector of the market – based on his or her expertise and your personal goals. These small adjustments along the way are like minor detours that can help you avoid trouble. Since an advisor is keeping an eye on the shop all the time, they might see opportunities that would otherwise fly under the radar. That’s because they aren’t just relying on their individual expertise, they’re also tapping into the collective knowledge of a team of financial minds at the institution they represent.

IT'S PERSONAL

This is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of wealth management: It’s highly personal. A financial professional will meet with you to understand who you are and where you want to go. They’ll know how much risk you’re comfortable with. They’ll help you understand how your new business venture aligns with saving for the kids’ college tuition.

IT'S FOR EVERYONE

When it comes to the concept of managing assets in your best interest, don’t let the word “wealth” throw you off. Wealth management isn’t the sole province of the rich. Even if you’re just starting your career, you’re still building wealth. Over time, those checks will continue piling up, promotions might come sooner than you think, you might get married, you might have children. Your overall financial picture is going to grow more and more complex over time, and a wealth manager will help you make sense of it along the way. 

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