I’ve seen a few different takes on this question, mostly it is common error rather than intentional subterfuge – even practitioners use advisor and adviser interchangeably. But a lot of my fellow advisers will say it is usually a hybrid broker who uses the term “advisor” in order to deceive. I’m not sure about that but it’s definitely a thing people say.
Here’s a smart way of thinking about it from Jason Zweig at the WSJ’s Total Return blog:
Long ago, investors bought stocks from “customer’s men,” who then became “registered representatives,” who in turn morphed into “investment adviser representatives.” Financial planners, meanwhile, became “financial advisers” and even “wealth managers.”
Much like garbagemen rechristening themselves “sanitation engineers,” the folks who flog investments are tweaking their titles to make what they do seem fancier and more impressive than it is.
Stockbrokers and financial planners alike have been migrating, en masse, from the word “adviser” to the alternative, subtly-more-impressive spelling advisor. (When you type advisor in WordPress, as I just did, the software underlines it with red sawteeth, signaling that the word is misspelled. Most dictionaries say either spelling is acceptable.)