Financial advisors are compensated with various pricing strategies that are based on their knowledge, licensing, and company affiliations:
- Fixed Fee (aka Retainer)
- Asset-Based Fee
- Hourly Fee
Keep in mind the method of compensation will vary by the professional who is selling financial planning services. Some advisors are licensed to be compensated with fees, while others are limited to being paid with commissions.
How should you compensate professionals who impact your financial well-being?
What About Retainers (Fixed Fees)?
Retainers are fixed fees that you pay in monthly, quarterly, or annual installments for financial advice and services that are provided by professionals who are licensed to be compensated with fees.
This is the same way you compensate other professionals (CPAs, Attorneys) you rely on for specialized advice and services.
Retainer based financial planning can be an all-inclusive fee that covers the costs of the advisor’s financial planning and investment services or it can be limited to planning-only services.
What About Asset-Based Fees?
A high percentage of advisors prefer to charge asset-based fees for their advice and services. For example, you have $1,000,000 of invested assets and advisors charge a 1% fee ($10,000 per year) for their services. When the asset amount increases to $1,200,000 the advisors’ fee automatically increases to $12,000 per year. The same is also true when asset amounts decline in value, but markets go up more than they go down.
This asset-based fee may cover the cost of the advisors’ planning and investment advice or it may be limited to their investment services. When it is investment advice only, the advisors will usually charge a fixed fee for their planning services.
It is important to note the value of accounts go up due to market appreciation, you adding money to your accounts (contributions), and dividends/interest being automatically reinvested into your accounts. But, none of this has anything to do with your need for high-quality financial planning advice and services.
You may also object to paying asset-based fees for investment advice on the basis it rewards advisors for taking additional risk. It can also impact planning advice. For example, an asset-based fee may cause advisors to provide planning advice that is designed to increase the amount of the asset-based fee. While this may sound attractive, the advice of these advisors may exceed your tolerance for risk.
We should add, the amount of investable assets may also have nothing to do with the complexity of your financial plan. You may have a smaller asset amount but still, require a more complex financial plan. The opposite can also be true. You may have a larger asset amount but have a relatively simple planning requirement.
What About an Hourly Fee?
An hourly fee is consistent with the way you pay attorneys and CPAs. In general, this method of compensation has two primary variables: The expertise of the professional and time.
More experienced, knowledgeable professionals usually provide better advice than advisors with lower levels of expertise. Keep in mind there are no minimum experience or education requirements to claim to a financial advisor. And, the most expensive commodity on earth is bad advice, so it pays to rely on professionals that have substantial experience and specialized knowledge.
And, then there is the amount of time the professional spends working on matters related to your financial plan. Less complex cases take fewer hours and more complex cases take additional hours.
If you have a more complex plan, you should select a more experienced advisor and you should expect the plan to take more time to complete. On the other hand, if you have a relatively simple plan you do not need that experience level and your plan should take less time to complete.
What About the Free Lunch?
Salesmen are paid commissions to sell investment and insurance products. Since a lot of people do not want planning and investment advice from salesmen, they have learned to camouflage their real purpose (sell products) by providing cookie-cutter financial plans that recommend the products they want to sell.
For example, a person who is licensed to sell mutual funds and insurance products may produce a financial plan that recommends all of the assets be invested in these types of products.
Another red flag is someone who says their planning services are free. There is no such thing as a “free lunch” in the financial service industry. What is really happening is the advisors are being paid by third parties (annuity companies, mutual fund families) to sell their products. Then these companies mark-up the fees they deduct from your accounts.
Most people consider this a major conflict of interest when advisors are paid by third parties to make planning and investment recommendations.
Five Key Reasons Why Retainer-Based Fees Benefit You
At Financial Freedom Fee-Only Wealth Management, we believe that utilizing a retainer-based fee approach provides you the client the best conflict-free advice that encompasses both comprehensive financial planning and investment management services.
The following are three important reasons why we believe most people are better off if they select advisors who are compensated with retainer-based fees for their planning advice and services.
While there is some correlation between asset amounts and therefore complexity or magnitude of opportunities, we believe that asset amounts by themselves should not drive the fee structure. We believe that a “win-win” fee structure should be based on an assessment of the amount of effort that is involved in order to specifically address your individual financial planning and investment management opportunities.
As a great example, what if most of your assets are invested in a company pension plan or 401(k) that is not accessible by the advisor? You may still need a sophisticated financial plan, but do not have the assets to support it.
Conflicts of Interest
Financial professionals who are compensated with fees are subject to a fiduciary standard that governs their relationships with clients. This is the highest ethical standard in the financial service industry. Fiduciaries are required to always put your financial interests ahead of their own.
A core conflict is always doing what is best for the advisor or firm versus what is best for you. Under the asset-based fee model, advisors also have less incentive to advise clients on important financial issues that do not produce additional assets and revenues for their practices and firms.
Non-fiduciary advisors are held to lower ethical standards that increase your risk that you will receive advice that benefits the advisor more than you. For example, advisors recommend the products that pay the highest commissions versus the products that produce the best results. Conversely, clients who work with advisors on retainer-based fees have fewer conflicts of interest to be concerned about.
You want an advisor you can trust for objective advice that is always in your best interests. How you pay advisors has a lot to do with how trustworthy their advice may be. But, at the end-of-the-day, ethics are an individual characteristic. You should still do your homework before you select an advisor.
Tailored Services Based on Client Need
Another advantage of retainer-based planning relationships is, they enable you to select the level of service you actually need (simple to complex) and pay the financial professional for that level of service.
This is in stark contrast to a payment method that is based on the amount of assets that has nothing to do with your need for a comprehensive plan that may be extremely complex.
How It Works
After your initial meeting with a retainer-based financial planner, the advisor should provide a service agreement that documents their terms, conditions, and pricing.
Before you sign, make sure you understand what the service fee covers and who receives the money. At this point, you should require full written disclosure. Any information that is withheld from you should be considered a red flag. This person may not be the right advisor for you. Advisors withhold information for a reason and it rarely benefits you.
Since retainer fees are fixed, make sure you know how the retainer fee increases over time.
Be sure to ask for a calendar of events so you can schedule service meetings and calls. An important advisor service is keeping you fully informed about what is happening in the financial markets, why it is happening, and how it impacts you.
Most people need a well-thought-out plan that encompasses every phase of their financial life including retirement and the disposition of their estate. The right professional is a source of financial peace of mind. This professional is the expert who can help you achieve your financial goals. At the end of the day this advice will impact when you retire, how you live during retirement, and your financial security late in life when you need it the most.