What Is Wealth Management, and Do You Need It?

Wealth management firms offer investment management and comprehensive financial advice. Wealth managers handle complex financial issues and coordinate financial experts on behalf of clients.
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Wealth management is the highest level of financial planning services. Wealth management generally includes comprehensive investment management alongside financial advice, tax guidance, estate planning and even legal assistance.

The type of service offered by a wealth management firm is best suited to affluent clients. But while you may not require wealth management now, your needs are likely to change over time. At some point, it may be time to look into wealth management.

Wealth management is the most advanced form of investment advisor services. A wealth advisor typically creates a specially tailored investment strategy and plan for their clients to help them manage their assets.

Wealth managers generally aim their services at the highly affluent and may have expertise in the types of financial questions that affect the ultrawealthy, such as how to avoid the estate tax. They often coordinate services among different experts, such as working with a lawyer or an accountant on your behalf.

In short: A lot. Wealth management services often require steep account minimums. For example, Fidelity’s “private wealth management service,” where you have an entire team of financial professionals working on your behalf, requires at least $2 million invested through Fidelity Wealth Services and $10 million or more in total investable assets.

Fidelity also offers a simpler “wealth management” service, where you work with an individual advisor and requires a $250,000 account minimum.

Vanguard, another online brokerage, offers a range of financial advice services; the one it describes as “wealth management” requires a $5 million minimum.

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A wealth manager should be able to assist with all of your financial-planning needs, up to and including, for example, managing the tax ramifications of business income and setting up a donor-advised fund for your charitable contributions.

Financial planners may offer similar services to wealth managers, but often they'll let you purchase services on an "a la carte" basis. For example, if all you want is help figuring out how you'll meet your retirement income needs, some financial planners will work with you to create a retirement income plan, and you pay solely for that service.

If you need assistance estate planning, specialized tax help or investing advice, it may be worth getting professional help now to protect and preserve your assets later.

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Wealth management offers more complete financial planning than portfolio management. It includes comprehensive guidance on a client's financial situation, including investment management, estate and tax planning, accounting, retirement planning and even legal guidance in some cases.

Portfolio management refers to a service or person who crafts an investing strategy on behalf of a client. involves picking investments that minimize risk and maximize returns, but typically does not include other financial planning services.

If those wealth-management minimums are more than you bargained for, then you probably don’t need wealth management. While some financial planners also focus on ultrawealthy clients, there’s a growing cadre of financial advisors who work with both affluent and middle-income folks. Some of these advisors operate online.

Online financial advisors offer portfolio management (also called ) and in-depth financial planning, including access to a human financial planner. Often, these services are delivered entirely over the phone or by video conference. While you may not meet in person, you’ll work directly with a financial advisor who can help you build a holistic financial plan or reach a specific goal.

The services offered vary by provider. , for example, offers unlimited access to a dedicated advisor who is a certified financial planner (). You’ll pay a flat annual fee, which varies depending on the complexity of your financial needs, and the service includes investment management.

At , clients with more than $200,000 invested get access to two dedicated financial planners; that service and investment management is included in the 0.89% fee.

Other providers, like , offer ongoing access to a team of finance pros. Those professionals will answer your financial questions and help you create a financial plan, but you generally won't speak to the same dedicated advisor each time. (Facet Wealth, Personal Capital and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services are NerdWallet advertising partners.)

Some providers will help you with specific financial questions but not others — for example, complex questions around the taxation of self-employment income might be beyond the scope of some companies.

Given all the variety, it’s important to shop around to find the service that best meets your needs.

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