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Becoming a Financial Advisor in Maryland

Financial advisor is a term that is used to describe professionals legally known as investment adviser representatives (IAR) or sole proprietors of investment adviser (IA) firms. This page offers a step-by-step guide explaining how to become an investment adviser representative (IAR) or how to establish an investment adviser (IA) firm in the state of Maryland registered at the state level with the Maryland Securities Division or at the federal level with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

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Step 1. Get Your Education

  1. Get the right degree. To become a financial advisor, you will need to start by getting the best possible education through one of the many degree programs that are available. When you are working as an IAR, your educational background will be readily accessible to potential clients through a national registry and they can compare your information to that of other advisers. Almost all financial planning and advisory services are provided by individuals that hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and it is also becoming common to see advisers holding highly specialized degrees.

    Degrees that help prepare financial advisors to succeed include:

  • BA or BS -Accounting
  • BA-Consumer and Family Financial Services
  • MBA-Accounting and Finance or simply Finance
  • MS-Accounting, Personal Financial Planning, or Finance
  • PhD-Accounting or Finance
  • Enroll in the right classes. The education that you get should help you provide the best information possible to your clients. Relevant courses are:
    • Business communications
    • Business ethics
    • Marketing
    • Economics
    • Behavior of persons, organizations, and groups
    • Management
    • Accounting
    • Taxation
    • Business law
    • Finance
    • Computer information systems
    • Statistics
    • Quantitative applications in business
  • To help highlight the particular skills that you have as an adviser, consider earning one of the available specialized professional certifications which are completely elective and aren’t required for either state or federal IAR registration. If you do choose to pursue one of these specialty certifications, you must meet minimum eligibility requirements that usually include a certain amount of industry experience or a minimum level of formal education, which is usually at least a bachelor’s degree. Specialized certifications specific to financial advisors include:
    • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
    • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
    • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
    • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
    • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

    Step 2: Register Your Firm in Maryland

    (This step is only applicable if you are interested in establishing your own IA firm. If you will start your career by working with an established firm, you can skip to Step 3.)

    To begin operating as an independent practice, you will have to complete the registration process for your investment adviser (IA) firm through the FINRA administered Investment Adviser Registration Depository (IARD). By completing this process, you will register your firm with the Maryland Securities Division if the total assets your firm will be managing are less than $100 million, or with the federal SEC if total assets under management are more than $100 million.

    1. Begin the FINRA Entitlement Process to open an IARD User Account by completing Entitlement Forms specific to the New Investment Adviser Firm (Section 3). The entitlement process will provide you with authorized access to FINRA’s Web-based systems. As a part of this process, your new firm will have to designate a Super Accountant Administrator (SAA). After Entitlement is approved, your SAA will be able to access the FINRA Firm Gateway to complete the following steps.
    2. Fund the IARD User Account to cover all required state filing fees, registration fees, as well as IAR registration and testing fees:
    • Initial IARD set up fees for state registered investment advisors are currently being waived
    • $225 initial filing fee for SEC-registered advisors, which include firms with over $100 million in assets under management
    • $300 initial state firm filing fee that is charged by the Maryland Securities Division
    • $50 initial state IAR filing fee that is charged by the Maryland Securities Division for each IAR that will be employed by the firm
    • Exam fees for each IAR that will be in the firm
  • Complete the Form ADV, an SEC form detailing the firm’s investment philosophy, fee structure, background on the firm’s IARs, and other important information that all potential clients will need. An electronic version of this form is available in the IARD. Registration with the state of Maryland is completed by selecting Maryland as the state your firm will be doing business in.
  • Submit a form U-4 Uniform Application for Securities Registration or Transfer for each investment adviser representative (IAR) in the firm. If you are going to be a sole proprietor or setting up the firm as an LLC in Maryland, you will be considered a representative of the firm and will need to submit a Form U-4 for yourself. Step 3 provides specific IAR requirements.
  • Requirements to Transact Business in Other States

    After registering in Maryland, the firm is allowed to transact a minimal amount of business in any other state without meeting additional registration requirements in that state. This will usually mean no more than four clients. After adding a fifth client in any other state, you will need to register in that state using the IARD system and pay their required registration fees.

    RIAs properly registered in another state are permitted to transact a small amount of business in Maryland under this De Minimis Exemption, and must register only when they add their fifth client in Maryland.

    Step 3: Get Your Registered Investment Adviser License in Maryland by Taking the Required Exam

    Your firm will be operating under the Maryland Securities Act (Title 11) if your firm will be offering services mostly to local clients living in Maryland and if you will manage assets that are less than $100 million. If you will manage assets over $100 million, you will be regulated under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Both the state of Maryland and the SEC waive exam requirements for applicants that have earned at least one of the following professional designations:

    • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
    • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
    • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
    • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
    • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)
    1. Register for required exams. Maryland requires that IAR candidates complete one of the following:

    OR

    Register using one of these forms:

    OR

    • Form U-10, the Uniform Examination request for non-FINRA Members, which will be an exam-only application for non-sponsored exams and does not complete the IAR registration process. The U-10 cannot be used to apply for the Series 7 exam, which requires a sponsor. If you are applying for the Series 65 Exam using Form U-10, you must still formally register within two years of passing the exam by using Form U-4.
  • Schedule any required exam(s) through one of the Prometric or Pearson Professional Center testing locations in Maryland. You are required to schedule the exam(s) within 120 days of registration. Schedule exams for different days, as you will not be allowed to write more than one exam in a day.
  • You will receive your exam score immediately after completing the exam.
  • Step 4: Ongoing Renewal and Update Requirements in Maryland

    Investment Advisor Firm:

    • IAR license and IA firm renewals will be completed through the IARD
    • License renewals must be completed by December 31st every year
    • Maryland’s renewal fees are $300 for the firm and $50 for each IAR employed by the firm
    • Renewal fees are paid for all states where the IAR is registered
    • Additional IARD renewal fees are $100
    • Annual updates to the ADV will always be required

    Investment Adviser Representatives:
    There will be no ongoing continuing education requirements for IARs after passing the Series 65 exam.

    IARs will be required to maintain current information on their Form U-4. If you will be a sole proprietor then you will need to make required updates yourself. If you are an employee of a firm, you will notify the firm’s SAA of any required amendments, which must be made within 30 days whenever any of the following information changes:

    • Jurisdiction changes
    • Education
    • Criminal record
    • Residential address
    • Customer complaints
    • Civil judgments
    • Certification
    • Disciplinary action
    • Name change (marriage)
    • Additional business activities