The Difference Between Solicitors, Accountants, Financial Advisors, Stockbrokers and Fund Managers

Solicitors, accountants, financial advisors, stockbrokers and fund managers are all trusted professionals who can support you in various legal and financial matters. Though each profession has a very different role, there is a fair amount of crossover between them, and you may not always find it easy to know which professional is the right one to support you.

This is particularly the case within the fields of tax planning, succession planning and administering estates. If you’re trying to decide which is the right professional to work with in these areas, you might find it helpful to understand more about what each professional will and won’t be able to do.

Regulation and qualifications

One of the main ways in which these professions differ from each other is in the qualifications they hold and the way they’re regulated. 

Solicitors have by far the longest qualification process of the five and are regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA).

Accountants do not have to be qualified or regulated in order to work in an accounting role. However, for a professional to call themselves a ‘chartered’ accountant, they do have to be qualified and regulated by the Chartered Institute of Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW). 

Financial advisors must be authorised by or registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and must hold a qualification or certification that is accepted by them. Some financial advisors work for banks or building societies, and therefore offer advice that is restricted to their employer’s products. Alternatively, independent financial advisors are not tied to a particular financial supplier and therefore do offer independent advice.

Stockbrokers and fund managers are also regulated by the FCA and must hold recognised qualifications or certifications. 

Tax planning

Members of all five professions can and do offer tax advice, but often from different perspectives. Solicitors generally offer tax planning advice in relation to end of life and succession planning. This is often in association with writing a Will or establishing a trust. 

Accountants often offer tax advice more from a compliance than a planning angle, while conversely financial advisors often offer tax advice that considers the big picture. Stockbrokers and fund managers will likely offer tax advice in relation to the stocks and shares they are managing on their clients behalf, but will usually refer clients to another financial professional for more general tax advice. 

Drawing up documents and swearing of oaths

Of the five types of professionals, only solicitors are able to offer the greatest level of legal protection when drawing up legal documents such as wills, powers of attorneys and deeds. Unlike other professionals who write wills, only solicitors are able to offer a full range of trusted legal advice as part of the process. 

Solicitors are also able to witness the swearing of oaths. Financial advisors, stockbrokers and fund managers cannot do this, though many chartered accountants can, as in recent years the ICAEW have been given the right to regulate the swearing of oaths

Probate, contentious probate and litigation

Administering an estate is a very big responsibility, and many people seek the assistance of a professional to help ensure they get it right. In many cases, a solicitor will be the first port of call here, as they are the specialists in this area and are the only professionals with the right to carry out reserved legal activities such as litigation. For this reason, estates that are complex or have become contentious will almost certainly require the attention of a solicitor. However, chartered accountants are legally able to work on non-contentious estates. 

Privileged information

One of the things that marks solicitors out from other professions is that they have the right to hold privileged information on their clients. This means they would not be required to disclose any sensitive information you had shared with them as part of the process of seeking legal advice or conducting litigation with the police or in court. There are only very limited exceptions to this.

This is different to accountants, financial advisors, stockbrokers and fund managers who could be called upon to disclose sensitive information you had discussed with them.

Financial advice

Though solicitors do offer some general financial advice in terms of safeguarding your estate for the future , they are not authorised to give specific financial advice.  The other four types of professionals discussed here are regulated to offer financial advice, though which professional is right for you will depend on the kind of financial advice you are looking for. Accountants and financial advisors are well placed to support you with managing your existing finances and planning for the future, while stockbrokers and fund managers are the best qualified professionals to plan and manage your investment portfolio.

Which professional is right for you?

Whether a solicitor, accountant, financial advisor, stockbroker or fund manager is right for you will depend on the individual circumstances of the situation. If you are dealing with very sensitive or contentious information, you will need to work with a solicitor. This is also the case if you need legal documents to be drawn up. 

However, if you are looking for some general tax or big picture financial planning advice, you may benefit from working with an accountant or financial advisor. If you need support with an investment portfolio, a stockbroker or fund manager is likely the right professional for you. 

In many situations, the ideal solution may be to work with a combination of professionals. Solicitors, accountants, financial advisors, stockbrokers and fund managers are generally happy to work together, sharing information when appropriate, in order to ensure all your interests are met. 

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