What is a Form ADV

July 2, 2023
for People

A Form ADV is a required submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission from any Registered Investment Adviser. The Form ADV is a reporting mechanism between the SEC and registered investment advisers. In includes relevant information about the investment style, assets under management (AUM), and key officers of an advisory firm. A Form ADV serves as a comprehensive disclosure document that registered investment advisers (RIAs) must file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and state regulators. The primary purpose of this form is to provide investors with essential information about an RIA's business practices, fees, conflicts of interest, and disciplinary history.

Investors can use the Form ADV to evaluate the suitability of an RIA before entrusting them with their hard-earned money. By reviewing the details provided in this document, investors can make informed decisions about whether an adviser's services align with their financial goals and risk tolerance. Additionally, it helps to promote transparency in the financial industry by ensuring that RIAs disclose all pertinent information about their operations.

In this guide, we randomly selected a firm to research as an example via the public information available on the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD)website.

Why is the Form ADV important?

Form ADV serves as a crucial tool for investors to make informed decisions when choosing investment advisers. It provides transparency by requiring advisers to disclose essential information about their business practices, fees, and potential conflicts of interest. By reviewing a firm's Form ADV, investors gain insights into an adviser's qualifications, services offered, and fee structure. Additionally, it helps investors identify any past disciplinary actions against the adviser or firm. In summary, Form ADV acts as a valuable resource for investors to evaluate and compare different investment advisers before entrusting them with their hard-earned money.

How to Access a Form ADV?

To access an RIA's Form ADV, investors can visit the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) website, which is managed by the SEC. The IAPD allows users to search for and review important information about investment advisers and their representatives. To find a specific RIA's Form ADV on the IAPD website, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the IAPD homepage.
  2. You can search by typing in an adviser's name, firm name, or Central Registration Depository (CRD) number.
  3. Once you've found the desired adviser/firm in the search results, click on their name to view their detailed profile.
  4. In the adviser's profile page, click the button that says "VIEW LATEST FORM ADV FILED" - (screenshot below).
  5. Download and review Part 1 and Part 2 of their Form ADV by clicking on the respective links.

By accessing a Form ADV through the IAPD website, investors can conveniently obtain crucial information about an RIA and make well-informed decisions regarding their financial management services.

What are the different parts of a Form ADV?

Form ADV consists of three parts, each serving a specific purpose:

  1. Part 1 is a detailed disclosure of the investment adviser's business practices, ownership structure, regulatory history, and potential conflicts of interest. It also provides information on the types of clients the adviser serves and the assets under management.
  2. Part 2A is commonly referred to as the "brochure" or "firm brochure." This part provides a narrative description of the adviser's services, fees, investment strategies, risks associated with those strategies, disciplinary history (if any), and other essential information for clients to make an informed decision about hiring or retaining the adviser.
  3. Part 2B is known as the "brochure supplement" or "individual disclosure document." It contains information about specific individuals within the firm who provide investment advice or interact with clients. This includes their educational background, professional experience, disciplinary history (if any), and any outside business activities that may pose a conflict of interest.

Understanding the Two Parts of a Form ADV

Part 1: Information About the Adviser

Part 1 of the Form ADV provides an overview of the RIA's business operations, including registration status, ownership structure, and affiliations with other financial institutions. This section also covers key personnel's background information, such as educational qualifications and work experience. Additionally, you'll find details about the RIA's client base, assets under management (AUM), and any disciplinary actions taken against them by regulatory authorities.

Part 2: Disclosure Brochure

Part 2 is often referred to as the "Disclosure Brochure," which offers a more in-depth look at an RIA's services, fees, investment strategies, and potential conflicts of interest. This section aims to help investors understand how an adviser conducts their business and how they are compensated for their services.

In this part of the form, RIAs must describe their advisory services in detail. They must explain their fee structures (such as hourly rates or asset-based fees), types of clients they serve (e.g., individuals, businesses or institutional investors), and any minimum account sizes required. Moreover, advisers need to disclose any outside business activities that could present a conflict of interest.

By examining both parts of a Form ADV thoroughly, investors can gain valuable insights into an RIA's professional conduct and determine if their services align with their financial objectives. Each part plays a crucial role in ensuring transparency in the advisory relationship and helping clients understand their advisers' qualifications and potential conflicts before entering into an agreement for services. For example, see this screenshot from the randomly selected firm's Form ADV. ⬇️⬇️

Key Sections to Review in Form ADV for Due Diligence

When conducting due diligence on an investment adviser, it's essential to focus on specific sections within the Form ADV. These sections provide valuable insights into the adviser's operations and potential risks. Here are some key areas to consider:

  1. Item 4: Advisory Business - This section outlines the types of advisory services provided, any specialized or tailored services offered, and a description of the firm's investment strategies. It helps you understand if the adviser's expertise aligns with your investment goals.
  2. Item 5: Fees and Compensation - Review this section to understand how the adviser is compensated, including fees charged and possible performance-based compensation arrangements. It also provides information on other costs like brokerage expenses and custody fees. (shown above in screenshot ⬆️)
  3. Item 8: Methods of Analysis, Investment Strategies, and Risk of Loss - Gain insights into the adviser's approach to analyzing securities and managing portfolios, along with any associated risks. This section helps you determine if their methods align with your risk tolerance.
  4. Item 9: Disciplinary Information - Check for any past disciplinary actions against the firm or its management personnel, which could indicate potential red flags.
  5. Item 10: Other Financial Industry Activities and Affiliations - This section discloses any affiliations or relationships that may present conflicts of interest between the adviser and their clients.
  6. Item 11: Code of Ethics, Participation or Interest in Client Transactions, Personal Trading - Review the firm's code of ethics policy to ensure they adhere to high ethical standards when managing client assets.
  7. Part 2B: Brochure Supplement - Don't forget to review each individual disclosure document for key personnel who will be providing advice or interacting with clients directly.

By focusing on these critical sections within Form ADV during your due diligence process, you'll gain a comprehensive understanding of the adviser's business practices, potential conflicts, and investment approach to make an informed decision.

Tips for Comparing Multiple Advisers' Form ADVs

When evaluating multiple investment advisers, it's important to compare their Form ADVs to make informed decisions. Here are some general tips to help you analyze and contrast the information provided by different RIAs:

  1. Compare Fee Structures: Review each adviser's fee structure and determine which one best suits your financial needs. Pay attention to any additional fees or expenses that may not be included in the primary fee, such as transaction costs or account maintenance fees. Read our guide on common adviser fee structures here.
  2. Analyze Investment Strategies: Each RIA may have a unique approach to investing based on their expertise and philosophy. Compare their investment strategies and consider whether they align with your financial goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon.
  3. Evaluate Conflicts of Interest: Look for potential conflicts of interest disclosed by advisers in Part 2 of the Form ADV. Assess how these conflicts might impact the quality of advice you receive and whether the adviser has implemented measures to mitigate them.
  4. Review Disciplinary History: Check each adviser's disciplinary history in Part 1 of the Form ADV to ensure they maintain a high standard of ethical conduct. Be cautious when considering advisers with a history of regulatory actions or customer complaints.
  5. Examine Clientele: Consider an adviser's typical client base, as this can provide insight into their area of expertise. If an adviser primarily serves clients with similar financial goals or backgrounds as yours, they may be better equipped to address your specific needs.
  6. Assess Minimum Account Sizes: Some RIAs require clients to meet minimum account size thresholds before providing services. Ensure that you're comfortable with these requirements and that they align with your investment capabilities.

By carefully comparing multiple advisers' Form ADVs using these tips, you can better understand their offerings and identify which RIA is the best fit for managing your financial assets.

Identifying Red Flags in a Form ADV

Understanding how to identify potential red flags or warning signs in a Form ADV can help investors avoid advisers who may not act in their best interests. Here are some key areas to examine when reviewing a Form ADV for potential concerns:

Disciplinary History

A history of disciplinary actions taken against an adviser by regulatory authorities is an important red flag. Pay close attention to the nature and frequency of these incidents and consider whether they indicate a pattern of misconduct or unethical behavior.

High Fee Structures

Excessive fees can erode investment returns over time. If an adviser's fee structure appears significantly higher than industry averages or than those of other advisers with similar services, this could be a warning sign. Be cautious about hidden fees or complex fee arrangements that may not be immediately apparent.

Frequent Changes in Advisory Personnel

If the Brochure Supplement (Part 2B) reveals frequent changes in key advisory personnel, it might signal instability within the firm. This could lead to inconsistent advice or service quality, which may impact your long-term financial goals.

Conflicts of Interest

While conflicts of interest are not inherently negative, they should be carefully scrutinized. Examine how the adviser mitigates these conflicts and whether they appear to prioritize their own interests above those of their clients.

Lack of Transparency

An RIA should provide clear and comprehensive information about their services, fees, and investment strategies. If you find vague or incomplete disclosures within the Form ADV, this could indicate a lack of transparency that might make it difficult for you to fully understand the adviser's approach and motivations.

By thoroughly examining a Form ADV for these potential red flags, investors can make more informed decisions when selecting an RIA to manage their financial assets.


An adviser's Form ADV is a powerful tool that allows investors to navigate the complex landscape of investment advisory services. By leveraging the transparency and comprehensive information provided in a registered investment adviser's Form ADV, investors can make well-informed decisions that align with their financial goals and risk tolerance. The ability to access details about an adviser's business practices, fees, investment strategies, disciplinary history, and potential conflicts of interest ensures transparency and fosters trust in the advisory relationship. By conducting thorough due diligence and comparing multiple advisers' Form ADVs, investors can confidently select the right partner to manage their financial assets. Form ADV acts as a beacon of transparency, helping investors safeguard their hard-earned money and forge a path towards financial success. Embrace the power of Form ADV as you embark on your investment journey, and let it be your guide in finding a trusted and reputable registered investment adviser.