Are You an Investment Advisor or an Investment Adviser?

vowelsTo heck with a day. What a difference a vowel can make. For example, are you an investment advisor or investment adviser? What about your firm? How do you spell it there?

Dictionaries are not very enlightening. Merriam-Webster as well as unhelpfully suggest: ad•vis•er also ad•vi•sor. The Associated Press Stylebook hints at a solution by resolutely stating: “Adviser | Not advisor.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t really account for the fact that “Registered Investment Adviser” seems just plain wrong.

Since I began my financial writing career in 1998, I have been in the habit of routinely spelling every instance with an “o,” as in, “advisor.” The choice was not, however, based on any reason more compelling than a coin-flip craving for consistency, one way or the other.

My personal seed of discontent regarding the style guide was planted years ago, when I read an article by somebody else who actually cared enough to have an opinion on the matter. I think it may have been in InvestmentNews (the print version). The column suggested that it made sense to use “advisor” when referring to the firm and “adviser” when referring to the individual.

That made sense to me too, even though I did nothing about it at the time. I have, however been watching and thinking about it ever since, and I’ve been seeing increasingly (if not perfectly) consistent use of advisor/adviser according to this guideline. It may explain why the SEC refers to Registered Investment Advisor firms, but the Investment Adviser Act of 1940; why Microsoft Word likes “advisory,” while underlining “advisery” in ominous red; and why the recent White House report refers to financial advisers.

One of my favorite things about being a sole proprietor is that I get to kill old habits hard whenever I decide that it’s time.

It’s time, effective immediately. As discussions heat up around the country on the nature of fiduciary advice and who is going to provide it (you, I hope), I am changing my ways and will begin following this same guide moving forward for the advisers I serve, as I help them promote their advisor firms. In summary:

  • If it’s a firm, I will use advisor (with an “o”).
  • If it’s a person, I will use adviser (with an “e”).

If you’ve ever pondered the same about your own communications, you may want to follow the same guide. You’ll get a “Like” from me about it, anyway.

Now, when it comes to investers … OMG, let’s not go there.