The so-called "three prongs" discussed in SEC Release IA-1092 include the following:
Does the person provide investment advice on securities?
Is the person in the business of providing investment advice?
Does the person receive compensation for the advice?
Let's look at the first prong in this post--does the person provide investment advice? A person is only providing investment advice if the advice involves securities--either their value or the advisability of buying, holding, or selling them. For example, a financial planner that deals only with insurance and budgeting would not meet the definition of "investment adviser." On the other hand, a sports agent who helps his clients determine how much money to invest in the stock market and how much in, say, real estate, or bank products, probably would meet the definition of "investment adviser," even if the advice does not involve specific securities--just the fact that he's telling people how much to invest in the securities markets is close enough for rock 'n' roll. Remember that a person could meet the definition of "investment adviser" whether meeting with people in person, or through emails and websites. So, if a professional provides individualized recommendations or financial plans by email or website only, that professional is an investment adviser. However, if somebody merely writes a newsletter on investing that does not provide any advice based on the needs of individuals, that person is a publisher, not an investment adviser. Doesn't matter how much the subscription costs; this person simply does not meet the definition of "investment adviser." Where this exclusion could be lost, however, is if the so-called "newsletter" is sent out based on "market developments." In other words, if this so-called "newsletter writer" is really just charging people to tell them when to buy or sell based on charts or trading patterns, that person does meet the definition of "investment adviser" and would probably have to register. So, if you get a question about a "newsletter writer," try to determine if this person is expressing his opinions to a general audience and, therefore, not an adviser; or is this person really telling people when to buy or sell securities based on "market developments" and, therefore, functioning as an investment adviser who uses market timing?
A lawyer could be determining the value of an illiquid investment in, say, an oil & gas drilling operation, when doing trust or estate work--does that make him an investment adviser? Probably not--that advice on securities values is "solely incidental" to his profession. But, that doesn't mean that lawyers can't be investment advisers. If they start providing investment advice, then they need to get registered. But, if they only work with securities to the extent required by their legal work, that's a different ballgame. Similarly, if your CPA "advises" you to maximize your IRA account, that's what she's supposed to do to help your tax situation. She's not an investment adviser if she's only doing tax preparation work. However, if the CPA starts providing financial planning services or "portfolio allocation" services, then she would be an invesment adviser and would need to register.
Don't try to memorize a bunch of bullet points here--train your mind to analyze each situation. How is the person functioning in the question? Are they giving specific advice on securities for compensation? If so, they're an adviser. If not, they're probably not an adviser.
We'll keep looking at this "three-pronged approach" over the next several blog posts. Once you begin to understand this material, a lot of other issues should fall into place.