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Investment Management vs. Financial Planning


Investment management involves overseeing and handling financial assets like stocks, bonds and other securities. This process includes creating a strategic plan for asset allocation, regularly monitoring investments and making adjustments to achieve financial goals. Financial planning, on the other hand, is a broader discipline that encompasses all aspects of an individual’s financial life. It provides a comprehensive roadmap to reach short- and long-term goals. A financial advisor can help you maximize your potential in both of these areas.

What Is Investment Management?

Investment management refers to the professional handling of various securities and assets, including bonds, stocks, real estate and other investment vehicles. The primary objective is to meet specified investment goals for the benefit of the investors. These investors can be individuals, institutions or corporations. The process involves creating an investment portfolio, monitoring and managing it, and making strategic decisions to optimize returns while minimizing risks.

At the core of investment management is the creation of a tailored investment strategy. This strategy is based on the client’s financial goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. Investment managers conduct thorough market research, analyze financial data, and use sophisticated tools to forecast market trends. They also diversify portfolios to spread risk and identify opportunities across different asset classes.

Investment management can be active or passive. Active management involves a hands-on approach where managers make buy, sell or hold decisions to outperform the market. They leverage research, market forecasts and their own judgment. In contrast, passive management aims to match market performance by mimicking the components of a specific index, such as the S&P 500.

What Is Financial Planning?

Financial planning is a comprehensive process that helps individuals manage their financial resources to achieve their life goals. It involves evaluating a person’s current financial situation, setting future financial objectives and creating strategies to meet those objectives. The process covers various aspects of personal finance, including budgeting, saving, investing, retirement planning, tax planning and estate planning.

The financial planning process typically starts with an assessment of the individual’s current financial status. This includes analyzing income, expenses, assets, liabilities and insurance coverage. Based on this assessment, a financial planner helps set realistic and measurable financial goals, whether they are short-term like saving for a vacation or long-term like planning for retirement.

Once goals are established, the financial planner devises a tailored plan to achieve them. This plan includes detailed recommendations on saving and investing, strategies for reducing debt and advice on insurance and tax planning. And it will then need regular review and adjustment to reflect changes in personal circumstances and economic conditions.

Key Differences: Financial Planning vs. Investment Management

A couple looking for a financial advisor who can integrate both financial planning and investment management.

While both financial planning and investment management are interconnected, they serve different purposes. Here are five areas in which you will find key differences in both services:

1. Scope: You can benefit from financial planning when you need comprehensive guidance across all aspects of your financial life, including budgeting, saving, retirement planning, tax planning, estate planning and risk management. Investment management, on the other hand, is ideal for when you need strategic management of your investment portfolios; focusing on selecting, buying and selling investments to maximize returns.

2. Goals: Financial planning can help you create a roadmap for achieving long-term financial goals like retirement or education funding, while maintaining your overall financial health. Investment management, on the other hand, aims to maximize returns within your risk tolerance and is suited for clients who are focused on growing their investment portfolio.

3. Focus: If you’re seeking to identify and prioritize your financial goals and develop long-term strategies, you’ll benefit from financial planning, which can help you address the big picture of your financial life. If, however, you need specific expertise in selecting and managing investment assets, thereby ensuring a diversified and balanced portfolio, you will find investment management beneficial.

4. Services: Financial planning offers a wide range of services, including cash flow management, retirement planning, insurance planning, tax strategies and estate planning. Investment management, by comparison, provides services like portfolio management, asset allocation, investment selection, performance analysis and rebalancing.

5. Process: The financial planning process involves assessing financial situations, setting goals, developing plans and regular reviews. Investment management process, on the other hand, focuses on assessing risk tolerance, setting objectives, creating strategies and making investment decisions.

Can a Financial Advisor Help With Both?

Yes, financial advisors can help you with both financial planning and investment management. Many are trained and experienced in providing comprehensive services that cover both areas. This combined approach will allow an advisor to offer you holistic financial guidance, thereby addressing immediate and long-term financial goals, while also managing and optimizing your investment portfolio.

Integrating both approaches through your financial advisor will first allow you to establish a foundation through financial planning—setting financial goals, developing strategies, managing cash flow, minimizing taxes, etc. And then, through investment management, you could build on this foundation by implementing investment strategies based on your risk tolerance and objectives.

This integrated approach will fit your investment decisions within the context of an overall financial plan, and could therefore lead to more informed and effective financial management. For example, an advisor might adjust your investment portfolio to generate income during retirement or to fund a child’s education.

Bottom Line

A woman considering financial planning services to help her reach different goals.

While investment management focuses on the strategic growth of assets through careful selection and monitoring, financial planning provides a comprehensive approach to achieving financial goals. Both services are key for the management of your overall finances, but they address different aspects of your financial health. Knowing the differences can help you leverage professional guidance to secure a stable and prosperous financial future.

Tips for Financial Planning

  • A financial advisor can help you set and reach long-term financial goals. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • An investment calculator can help you with one important role – seeing how your investments might grow over time. It can help you see if you’re choosing the right assets to maximize your potential to reach your own goals.

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