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The Top 5 Fee-Only Financial Advisors in San Diego (2024)

Do more with what you’ve earned.

Financial advisors for successful professionals, executives, and business owners.

Are you wondering who the top financial advisors are in San Diego? We’ve done a thorough analysis. Read on to find out what criteria we used and who the best advisors in Southern California are.

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Managing your financial life gets more difficult by the year. Expanded investment opportunities, tighter regulatory guidelines, and the sheer time commitment make self-directed finance and investment management as labor-and-time-intensive as a full-time job. 

If you’re like one of many in San Diego wondering, “Should I get a financial advisor,” your workplace comp structure is likely far more nuanced than what’s on a W-2. RSU vesting, stock options, and equity management offer the potential for great reward, but mismanaging (or undermanaging) these unique assets presents just as much risk. 

That’s why finding a financial advisor in San Diego is a one-way ticket to buying back your most precious asset of all – time – by trusting experts to manage your financial affairs safely, intelligently, and with your best interests at heart. 

Easier said than done, though – in a world where everyone is a self-identified expert, finding a quality and affordable financial advisor in San Diego demands a little due diligence up-front to safeguard your savings.

That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you.

Our Criteria for the Best Fee-Only Advisors in San Diego

We’ll cut to the chase and spoil our list of top fee-only financial advisors in San Diego – if you want to know more about how to pick a financial advisor, keep reading. If you’re short on time, though, these five meet the mark according to our strict criteria for evaluating financial advisors:

1. Unconflicted Interests 

The top financial advisors in San Diego work at an independent advisory firm and don’t moonlight or double-dip as a broker-dealer (or affiliate of a broker-dealer). Keeping incentives clear and aligned is the best way to get honest, practical advice and money management from a financial advisor. 

2. Locals Only 

They understand the San Diego landscape. The cost of living, average income, everyday expenses, typical job compensation structure – all drive your financial future. Outsourcing financial advisory to a national firm without roots in your city is the best way to find a disinterested financial advisor who will use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to your financial management. 

3. No Bad Marks

Their record is clean. This applies, of course, to their regulatory record with the SEC – you wouldn’t hire a contractor with a history of building code violations; likewise, financial advisors need to be vetted to ensure they keep things straight and narrow. But, beyond their permanent record, the best financial advisors in San Diego have a clean reputation with an extensive network. High-trust financial advisors can leverage their network to expand their scope of services to whatever you need – if they can’t help you directly, they know a guy. 

4. Eminently Qualified 

Chasing credentials isn’t always the best move, but in the case of financial advisors, you want to ensure they have academic and practical backing to their claims. Our best financial advisors in San Diego all have advanced degrees, like an MBA, and at least ten years working at a high level within the industry. 

List of the Top Five Fee-Only Financial Advisors in San Diego

At Bull Oak, we have an incredibly high standard for the advisors on our team. But we know we can’t help nor are a fit for everyone. We work with people from all walks of life, from building wealth to retirement, but we specialize in helping working professionals and business owners. If our professional service scope is not the best fit for you, no worries – here are our top alternative fee-only financial advisors in San Diego (in no particular order):

1. Mark Delfino
HoyleCohen Wealth Management

#1 financial advisor in San Diego - HoyleCohen Wealth Management
  • Years of Experience: 20
  • Specialty: Entrepreneur wealth management
  • Minimum Assets: $1,000,000

Mark maintains a clear purpose and vision for the firm and its clients. He successfully navigated the firm through the 2008 Great Financial Crisis and orchestrated its ensuing growth. Because of his efforts, HoyleCohen has more than quintupled in size since he joined while maintaining high levels of service, value, and client intimacy. 

2. Timothy Kenney
Seawise Financial

#2 financial advisor in San Diego - Seawise Financial
  • Years of Experience: 25
  • Specialty: ETF investment strategies 
  • Minimum Assets: $400,000

Timothy founded Seawise Financial in 2018 after over 20 years of industry experience as a bond trader, portfolio manager, and financial advisor. Ultimately, after years of working for big investment banks and insurance companies, he wanted to combine the knowledge and expertise learned at those firms with the flexibility and transparency of an independent advisory firm.  

3. Dale Yahnke

#3 financial advisor in San Diego - Corient
  • Years of Experience: 33 
  • Specialty: Index fund investment strategies 
  • Minimum Assets: $1,000,000
  • Note: Dale’s firm, Dowling and Yahnke, was acquired by CI Financial, a Canadian investment bank, though the firm is still practicing and taking on clients.

Dale founded the independent, fee‐only registered investment advisor Dowling & Yahnke to provide time-tested, objective financial planning advice and investment management services while adhering to an exceptional standard – the fiduciary standard.

4. Cady North
North Financial Advisors

#4 financial advisor in San Diego - North Financial Advisors
  • Years of Experience: 16
  • Specialty: Women and divorcee clients 
  • Minimum Assets: $0 (minimum $6,625 annual fee)

One of the reasons I love working for myself is I can plan my own schedule and give back time to causes I appreciate. Financial literacy is one of those causes for me, and I like to get involved by providing financial planning workshops to local organizations and volunteering with Savvy Ladies. This is just one example of how you can design your business to reflect your personal goals!

5. Stefan Prvanov
Blankinship & Foster

#5 financial advisor in San Diego - Blankinship & Foster Family Wealth Advisors
  • Years of Experience: 20
  • Specialty: Healthcare professionals (physicians) and women
  • Minimum Assets: $1,000,000

Stefan is a lead advisor and is the President and CEO of Blankinship & Foster. He has been helping clients with their personal financial matters for over 20 years. Stefan is an active member of the Family Wealth Advisors Council, a national network of nine independent wealth management firms that collectively manage over $12 billion in assets. It’s a group of thought leaders that share ideas, strategies, and lessons learned.    

What Services Should a Financial Advisor Provide?

Knowing whether to hire a financial advisor isn’t a yes/no, binary decision – your unique current and future financial circumstances drive the decision. In general, though, no matter what those needs are, you will likely find an advisor who specializes in it or can help you reach your specific goals. Some of the most common services or assistance that advisors will provide are:

Investment Advice

This is probably the most common reason to seek an advisor. In this case, the advisor will help determine your investing goals and risk tolerance before helping set up and manage an investment portfolio aligned with your investment ethos. They’ll also keep you abreast of major market changes and how they affect your portfolio.

Read: “Recession-Proof Your Portfolio: Smart Investing When the Economy Slows Down

Fund College Dreams

This can be for yourself or, more likely, your children. Many tax-advantaged options are available to help fund college, and an advisor can help you navigate these tricky rules and requirements. 

Read: “How to Get a College Education Without Mortgaging Your Future

Budgeting and Debt Management 

In places like San Diego, lifestyle inflation is a real possibility. This is doubly true if, like many in the region, you’re first-generation wealth with limited familiar experience to fall back on. 

If you’re struggling with debt, the last thing you probably want is the expense of hiring an advisor. But in situations with too much mortgage, credit card, car note, student loan, or other debts, an advisor can act as a neutral third party to look at your monthly payments and optimize your budget to reduce the debt. 

Sometimes advisors can even act as creditor-facing representatives to call on your behalf to advocate for changes in due date, monthly payment, or interest – you’ll need to check with the advisor first, though, because not all offer this service. Even if you aren’t in debt, an advisor can help build a budget to maximize your savings and ensure you’re prepared for the future. 

Read: “The 4 Best Ways To Budget That Actually Works

Retirement Planning

It’s never too early to start planning for retirement – the longer you invest in your future, the more your money will grow before you need it. As with college savings accounts, many tax-advantaged options, like Traditional and Roth IRAs, are available. Your advisor can educate you about the possibilities and serve as an investment advisor to optimize the investments in your account. An advisor can also help manage employee retirement accounts like 401(k) and 403(b). Most importantly, a financial advisor can help you understand how nuanced securities like stock options and RSUs affect your retirement prospects and how to balance them to reduce risk. 

Read: “How to Retire Early in San Diego – A Guide to Early Retirement in Southern California

Financial planning that matches your ambition.

Financial advisors for successful professionals, executives, and business owners.

What Else Can Financial Advisors Help With? 

As we said, financial advisors can assist with most financial and money-related matters and goals. Some other areas of expertise might include:

  • Tax assistance and planning.
  • Insurance management – even if the advisor isn’t selling insurance, they can help monitor your policy to ensure you have the necessary coverage. 
  • Estate/legacy planning. 
  • Emergency management. 
  • Charitable giving. 
  • Small business and entrepreneurial advice.
  • A second opinion – if you are comfortable with finances and investing but want to see what a professional thinks, advisors can do one-time consults. 
  • Other life event planning – marriage, changing jobs, and nearly every significant lifestyle change that impacts finances. 

How to Pick a Financial Advisor in San Diego

Before you decide whether a financial advisor is right for you, we need to explain what a financial advisor is. Many shady businesses are designed to trick you into thinking they’re financial planners but exist to separate you from your money instead of helping you grow it.  

First, let’s look at what a financial advisor is not. If they’re billing themselves as a retirement income planner, financial designer, or annuity specialist – they aren’t what you’re looking for. 

To be a true financial advisor, you should be well-qualified. These are certifications from a third-party, professional organization that show the planner has worked a certain number of hours in the field and passed competency tests. You’ll want to look for certifications like Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®), or Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Certified Financial Planner logo

Aside from credentials, you’ll want to ask whether the financial advisor is also a fiduciary. Advisors that are required to adhere to the fiduciary standard, those that are legally required to act in your best interest, is of the utmost importance. It is important to understand why you need to work with a fiduciary financial advisor. In short, this person’s firm will have to be registered as an RIA (Registered Investment Advisor), which are fee-only firms, which will line up their incentives with yours. 

The Difference Between Fee-Only vs. Fee-Based Financial Advisors

In our list of top fee-only financial advisors, we skipped over what the “fee-only” designator means. Financial advisors tend to lean on one of two compensation structures for their time and expertise: fee-only and fee-based.

Fee-Based Financial Advisors

Fee-based advisors pull part of their compensation structure from selling you securities or assets. These advisors are registered under FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority). Whether registered as broker-dealers themselves or working as an affiliate for a mutual fund or other financial institution, fee-based advisors get kickbacks from the products they invest your capital in. They also usually charge you a fee for the privilege, too. And, since they usually aren’t required to disclose that affiliate compensation structure, you don’t know whether a fee-based financial advisor’s vision is clouded by their own interests.  

Fee-Only Financial Advisors

Fee-only financial advisors work under the “fiduciary duty” umbrella, meaning they’re legally mandated to operate with your best financial interests in mind. They are registered under the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission). Under this arrangement, fee-only financial advisors work under a firm designated as an RIA (Registered Investment Advisor), which we mentioned above. 

These advisors charge a flat or percentage-based fee to you, the client, rather than getting kickbacks from the securities and investment assets. Fee-only advisors, therefore, optimize your portfolio and investment outlook according to what’s best for your situation, not their wallet. 

Beware of Dual-Registered Advisors

There are financial advisors out there that are both fee-based and fee-only advisors, meaning they are registered under both FINRA and the SEC. This means that they can claim to be a fiduciary fee-only financial advisor one minute, and the next, sell you a product and receive a commission as a fee-based advisor. In short, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

We outline how to identify these types of advisors here

3 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Financial Advisor

If you’re looking for a financial advisor in San Diego, you’ll need to shop around to find the best fit. There’s no downside or risk in talking to a few financial advisors to see which best aligns with your goals. When you’re comparing options, here are a few key questions to ask before pulling the trigger on hiring a financial advisor:

1. Are you associated with a broker-dealer?

The single most important question one can ask an advisor is whether or not they are associated with a broker-dealer. If the answer is yes, then that means they are a fee-based financial advisor and they are not a fiduciary.

2. What are the total costs? 

This can be somewhat confusing. A small percentage fee structure might sound ideal, but ask the advisor to spell it out for you in real dollar terms. Fees can hide in many places, so getting an “all-in” cost can be helpful to ferret them out. 

For example, many actively managed funds have expense ratios; these are administrative fees deducted from your returns, so you don’t notice them missing. A high expense ratio could mean thousands of dollars “lost” over your investment’s timeline that you’d never realize was “lost” if the advisor doesn’t explain it in real dollar terms. 

Advisory fees, annual fees, front-end loads, administrative fees – find out all of them that apply and how they relate in real terms. 

How much should a financial advisor cost?

Here’s a helpful visual to show the average financial advisor fee. A good advisor will consider fund costs and keep your investments as efficient as possible.

3. What does the client relationship look like? 

At baseline, you’ll need to know when to expect an update on your portfolio, whether in person or digitally. This is generally quarterly, but ensure the advisor has a recurring schedule to work with you, update your progress, and adjust plans as necessary. 

More important is finding out how easy it will be to contact the advisor in an emergency. Market crashes, family emergencies, winning the lottery – all of these, and more, have massive impacts on your financial profile. Your advisor must be accessible and responsive to your needs outside planned get-togethers. 

If you want to dig even deeper, we created a helpful video with additional questions to ask a financial advisor before hiring them:

10 Must-Ask Questions When Hiring a Financial Advisor

Why Shouldn’t You Hire a Financial Advisor? 

Giving up control is the biggest downside to hiring a financial advisor for many. It’s difficult to hand over one of life’s most significant stressors, money, to a relative stranger. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly vet the best financial advisors in San Diego. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, though, and not dealing with money sounds like a dream… then an advisor is the right choice!

Another drawback is the associated costs. They’re inevitable, and it might be tempting to avoid them altogether by going it alone. This isn’t always a bad idea, especially with all the no and low-fee brokerages available today. You’ll need to do your homework thoroughly before getting started. And, if the prospect of carefully researching and planning your investing journey while accounting for all variables scares you – go with an advisor for peace of mind. This holds doubly true if you’re the type of person who obsessively monitors and tracks your portfolio as the market swings back and forth.

Remember: time in the market beats timing the market, so if you don’t trust yourself to hold through good times and bad with an underlying sound strategy – go with an advisor. 

Watch this video with Bull Oak’s CEO, Ryan Hughes, to learn more about why an advisor might not be right for you:

5 Reasons You May Not Need a Financial Advisor

Aside from these primary drawbacks, there aren’t a lot of general downsides to hiring an advisor. Nothing in life is free, including good financial guidance – but if you’re not inclined to research and develop a portfolio plan on your own or fear micromanaging, the benefits far outweigh the costs. 

We hope this guide to choosing a top financial advisor in San Diego was helpful. 

Naturally, we fit the above-mentioned criteria at Bull Oak and would be happy to talk with you if you match our ideal client persona. While we work with a wide range of people from wealth accumulation to retirement, we primarily serve working professionals, executives, and business owners. We believe data-driven planning and pragmatic investing provide the best opportunity for financial success.

Learn more about us here or schedule an appointment with an advisor.

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