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Best Investment Firms

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Discount brokers have their place and many present a great value, but for investors who want professional wealth management, a full-service investment firm could be the answer.

The Best Investment Firms:

Why Choose a Wealth Management Firm?

Whether it’s time to rollover a 401k into an IRA, start an IRA or college fund or build an investment account simply to invest for your future, investors have a growing number of options. Online brokers have taken the market by storm, offering low costs trades, technical charts, webinars and online education centers to help investors learn the ropes, research and trade.

Robo-advisors promise to bridge the gap between DIY discount brokers and full-service firms by providing guidance or automated portfolio management based on predetermined criteria. Even with all the online options available, some investors prefer a more personal touch and the knowledge that someone they can trust will handle their portfolio and help guide decisions. Because there’s often some crossover in services, investment firms might offer a robust online platform for self-directed investing but also offer full-service advisors or account management.

How to Understand Your Investment Goals

Every investor has his or her own goals, balancing risk against safety or the chance to earn outpaced gains against dividend income and steady appreciation. A full-service investment firm can point the way to the best solution or basket of options that can help you realize your investment goals.

One of the biggest benefits of choosing an investment firm is that the firm’s advisors can help you to invest in a way that matches your long-term goals for safety and earnings — but also point out potentially problematic investments or likely underperformers. Utilizing a full-service investment firm doesn’t guarantee you’ll never have losses, but many losses can be avoided or minimized.

Who Needs an Investment Firm?

It’s a good idea to find the right financial advisor in an investment firm if you’re:

  • Dealing with complicated investments like inherited money and margin trading.
  • Undergoing a complicated life situation, like a remarriage or divorce.
  • Dealing with a large portfolio and multiple assets.
  • Looking for comprehensive wealth planning.
  • Unsure about your own ability to manage your money.

You may be able to think of other situations that warrant the need for a financial advisor at an investment firm. Make sure you do your homework before you act!

What to Look for in an Investment or Wealth Management Firm

You don’t want to choose the wrong firm for your needs — and there’s a possibility that could happen. Follow these guidelines to make sure you’re with a financial advisor that feels comfortable for you.

Overall Customer Satisfaction

No investment firm can be a perfect fit for every investor, but the best investment firms focus their efforts on the areas most important to their clients, providing top-notch service at the acceptable expense of higher commissions or fees than discount brokers.

Dedicated Financial Advisors or Teams

Much of the attraction for a full-service investment firm is the availability of dedicated financial advisors or teams, people who understand your investment goals, listen to your concerns and who often know you by name.

Customer Service and Support Options

The availability of multiple support options for account questions anytime of day or night has become a must-have feature, with the understanding that advisors are only available during business hours.

Reasonable Commissions and Fees

Expect to pay more when investing with a full service investment firm as opposed to a discount broker. However, if fees or commissions are too high, investment returns can be adversely affected by the headwind created in trading or management costs.

Information Resources and Investor Research Tools

Investors with a healthy curiosity will want to do their own research or learn more about investments they’ve either made or are considering.

Variety of Products and Investment Vehicles

The number of investment vehicles has increased dramatically in recent years and the best full-service brokers will provide options to round out your portfolio with investment options for nearly any type of asset class.

Investment Performance

For fully-managed accounts, investment performance becomes a big part of an investment firm’s report card for investors.

Additional Wealth Management or Estate Planning Solutions

Sometimes investments are only part of the picture. The availability of trusts, life insurance and estate planning options can help turn gains into a legacy of lasting wealth.

Drawbacks of Using an Investment or Wealth Management Firm

When choosing a full-service investment firm, you’re often trading autonomy for management. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is different than what you’ll get with most discount brokers. In exchange for the management or guidance provided by a full-service investment firm, fees or commissions will also be higher than with some lower-cost options.

You’ll have a new silent partner in your investment account, quietly taking a percentage — in good times and in bad. Warren Buffett is famous for his quote, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” This investment maxim can be applied to the notion of investment management cost as well. What’s often overlooked is the ability of a managed investment strategy to keep you out of trouble.

Many individual investors using DIY brokerages lose money. A management team’s or advisor’s ability to keep your account in the black — at least most of the time — is part of the value you get for the price you pay in higher commissions or fees. Be aware that some investment firms charge a transfer fee if transferring your account to another broker. You can probably expect transfer fees to be waived if transferring to another location within the same firm.

Account Funding for Investment Firms

A variety of methods to fund accounts is another must-have feature for investment firms. A particular interest is the ability to automatically invest on a weekly or monthly basis, taking advantage of dollar-cost averaging to build your account.

For most households, it’s easy to establish an amount that can be safely invested on a scheduled basis and that won’t be missed from the budget.

Additional amounts can be invested at your discretion or when you come into extra cash, such as selling an asset, earning a bonus or getting a large refund. Many investment firms require a minimum investment amount or offer lower management fees for larger investment accounts.

Investment Firm Trading Costs

With full-service investment firms, trading costs are often more accurately described as management fees. Certain types of trades or investments may have a set commission, typically ranging higher than the per-trade commission costs available from discount brokers.

Additionally, investors can expect a management fee ranging from below 1% up to over 3%. Management fees apply in good years and in bad, which means that in an investment year in which your account is essentially flat, you could show negative growth due to management costs.

Accounts with a higher dollar value are often rewarded with lower management fees and smaller accounts may have a fixed annual fee as well.

Best Wealth Management and Investment Firms

The miscellaneous fees and commissions as well as account restrictions such as minimum required balances are a trade-off for service that can’t be found with the lowest cost providers.

From personalized account management to goal-driven investment strategies, the best full-service investment firms treat investors like more than just an account number. You might even get a signed birthday card from your advisor or management team.

Commissions
0.30% annual fee
Account Minimum
$0

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

With Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (VPAS), Vanguard once again changed the investment industry. VPAS came about a few years ago, offering a product that is almost a happy marriage between a robo-advisor and a traditional financial advisor.

A Vanguard Personal Advisor works directly with you to understand your goals and financial needs. From there they implement a financial plan to help you achieve whatever your goals are.

Vanguard brings the low investment fees they are known for with their index funds to VPAS. A human advisor will help manager your investment portfolio for as low as 0.3% of all your assets under management. Most other wealth management firms will have fees above 1% anytime a human advisor is being used.

The account minimum needed for a VPAS account is about the same compared to other investment management firms. You will need $50,000 in investable assets to be able to open a VPAS account.

Commissions
$0
Account Minimum
$0

Charles Schwab Asset Management

With 5 stars in nearly every category in a recent JD Power’s customer satisfaction survey which rated full-service brokerages, Schwab proves its value to investors seeking full-service investment management by winning the survey’s top rating based on its average scores in all categories.

With a minimum investment amount of $1,000 for standard accounts and $5,000 minimum investment for managed accounts, Charles Schwab aims to be the investment firm that’s accessible to investors at nearly any level.

Investors with at least $25,000 in their account qualify for a one-on-one portfolio consultation. Most account interaction can be handled online or by phone, but for investors who prefer to meet in person, Charles Schwab offers more than 300 local branch offices throughout the U.S. Schwab boasts over 9 million customers, providing both no-fee professional portfolio management or self-directed investing.

Additional service-level tiers are available, including Schwab Managed Portfolios or Diversified Managed Accounts, bringing more personalized service for larger investment accounts. 

Minimum Investment
$1,000
Fees
1.5%/year plus 20% at sale

Masterworks

Ever dreamed of owning one of Warhol’s masterpieces or other incredible art? Masterworks makes it possible, even if you don’t have $1 million or more in your portfolio. 

Through Masterworks, you can own shares of famous works of art. When a piece is sold, you receive a share of the profits proportional to your initial investment, which can be $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the art piece you choose.

Once Masterworks offers you a choice of famous art investments, you pay a 1.5% annual management fee for each year for art insurance, storage and transportation.

Masterworks actively tries to sell the art piece. Once it sells, the platform takes a flat 20% commission if the painting has increased in value.

It’s a great option beyond traditional investments. If you’re an art connoisseur, don’t miss out!

Edward Jones

Edward Jones, founded in 1922, has been a trusted provider of portfolio management services and investment advice for nearly a hundred years. With over 13,000 offices in 50 states, Edward Jones is a national investment firm that’s also your local investment advisor.

Offering more locations than any other brokerage firm in the country has helped Edward Jones to grow to over 7 million clients. The firm also has nearly 600 locations throughout Canada. Edward Jones prides itself on its team of financial advisors who come from all walks of life, bolstered by a nationally recognized financial advisor training program.

This gives their team a deep understanding of the concerns and goals of American households as well as the knowledge needed to provide valuable investment guidance. Fees with Edward Jones can be higher than with some other firms, particularly if there is a lot of churn in the equities or funds you hold in your account. Management fees on accounts up to $250,000 are at 1.35%, but mutual fund fees can easily drive costs up to 2%.

For investors focused on the long-term, the management fees of up to 2% may still provide a good value in exchange for personalized service and investment guidance.

Commissions
$6.95 Customers who maintain combined balances of $25,000 or more in Bank of America deposit accounts or combined balances of $25,000 or more in Merrill Edge self-directed accounts can qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades per month.
Account Minimum
$0

Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge, now owned by Bank of America, brings the resources of 2 financial juggernauts, with BOfA Merrill Lynch Global Research being one of the most well-respected global research firms in the investment world.

Merrill Edge’s nationwide network of financial advisors boasts the largest number of Certified Investment Management Analysts (CIMA) among leading investment firms. As an essential part of a successful investing strategy, Merrill Edge advisors build dedicated one-on-one relationships with clients.

This places a high priority on transparency so you’ll understand how investment choices align with your goals, how well your investments are tracking those goals, and have a clear understanding of what you’re paying.

Full-service investment firms aren’t low-cost brokers, and Merrill Edge is no exception, with advisory fees often averaging 1% or higher in addition to management fees for mutual funds held within your portfolio as well as other associated trading costs. Investors who value a tight integration with Bank of America accounts and a world-class research firm to vet investment choices will find value with Merrill Edge.

Commissions
$4.95
Account Minimum
$0 for IRAs. Some accounts may require a minimum opening balance of $2,500

Fidelity Investments

Servicing a broad spectrum of investor profiles, Fidelity Investments offers low-cost trades for self-directed accounts as well as portfolio management and more complex wealth management services.

For investment accounts starting with $50,000, Fidelity can design a strategy to help you invest for retirement or other financial goals. Additional account tiers for accounts with a minimum $200,000 investment offer either tax-sensitive investment management or separately managed portfolios investing in specific equities or fixed income markets.

Fees for managed accounts vary widely with Fidelity, ranging from 0.20% up to 1.7% with the lowest fees available to Fidelity’s larger accounts. The ability for investors to maintain a separate trading account as well as a long-term managed account allows additional flexibility and a way to channel gains from individual investments to longer-term strategies or provide easy liquidity not often associated with managed accounts.

Get the Best Financial Firm on Your Side

Over the past several decades, the broad market and wide indexes such as the S&P 500 have outperformed most managed funds and the same may apply to managed portfolios.

Avoiding costly investment mistakes is crucial to overall portfolio growth and capital preservation, providing an often-overlooked advantage to using a full-service investment firm as opposed to self-directed investing.

A dedicated financial advisor or team can focus your portfolio on growth goals while also defending against losses, helping you to keep more of what you’ve earned.

Hire a Pro: Compare Financial Advisors In Your Area