The big news this week is that Schwab has announced plans to allow independent advisors to franchise a local Schwab branch, receiving support from Schwab in the form of a (small) starting book of clients, financial support, a turnkey system with the latest Schwab technology, and perhaps most important: the Schwab brand name. Although the early response form some is that this will potentially disrupt existing Schwab Institutional relationships, I have to admit: to me, it sounds like a great opportunity for some entrepreneurial advisors – especially breakaway brokers.Read More…
If there’s one piece of investment advice that’s almost universally agreed upon by financial planners, it’s this one: don’t bail out of stocks after a bear market. In fact, the entire foundation of wealth accumulation in the financial planning world is predicated on a healthy exposure to stocks for the long run, especially during the accumulation phase.
The planning world has attached itself to this stocks-for-the-long-run focus over the past two decades with its shift to an assets-under-management (AUM) business model, where revenues and value for the firm are tied to the markets in a similar manner to the client’s wealth and (future) income.
Yet in recent years – and especially since the 2008-2009 bear market – some planning firms have been starting to shift away from the AUM model, opting instead for more stable income business models like retainers. Yet this raises the question: if clients are supposed to stick with stocks for the long run and stay the course through temporary market downturns, are planners being hypocritical by not doing the same thing with their AUM business model?Read More…
In our intra-industry debates about compensation models, there is an emerging view that one of the challenges of charging for assets under management (AUM) is that by charging based on investments, your clients will become investment-centric. The prescribed cure to this is to use another compensation model, such as charging a flat retainer fee, or an hourly fee. That way, clients will not always have their attention drawn to the portfolio that derives their fee, and the planner can help to focus them on other aspects of planning. Yet this raises a fundamental question: does charging AUM fees cause clients to be investment-centric, or are clients investment-centric and therefore preferring AUM fees?
The times when the markets deal losses to clients are always difficult and stressful, but the difficulties are often exacerbated when clients realize that under most pricing structures, the planner will still be paid even when the portfolios are not up. To be fair, this is often quite reasonably justified by a great deal of value that the planner brings to the table above-and-beyond just portfolio management, and in the typical AUM structure market losses do still mean at least a decrease in the amount of fees that the client pays. On the other hand, because planning fees may already be declining in the face of a bear market, the last thing most planning practices can afford is to lose a client completely; reduced fees are still better than no fees at all. As a result, sometimes planning firms may do whatever they think is necessary to retain a client… including changing their pricing structure on the fly, and offering to reduce their clients’ fees to help maintain client retention. But in the end, was the pricing change simply a retention strategy… or are planners actually expressing "guilt" about client losses by trying to make them up with lower pricing?
It’s a general principle of economics that price is related to demand. The more you charge, the fewer will buy (or are interested in, or can afford) your services; the less you charge, the more buyers you can attract. The key, of course, is to price low enough to attract buyers, but high enough that your business is still viable and profitable.
Yet in the case of professional services, comparisons on price alone are often difficult, and other factors weigh into the decision; as a result, it’s difficult to easily judge who really has the lowest cost relative to the value they provide. From the business’ perspective, it is similarly difficult to judge where you should really set your price in order to keep your business viable and profitable, while not dissuading clients due to cost.
Accordingly, a recent study on fee-based advisors suggests that many may not have the equation quite right, and may in fact be leaving significant money on the table.Read More…
Most planning firms pride themselves on providing great service to their clients, which often involves going to great lengths to satisfy client requests. Yet in reality, it seems that a lot of our intensive service efforts are less a function of what our clients asked for, and more about what we thought we should offer them. Perhaps a common example is something like quarterly performance statements; most firms say their clients "want" them, yet in truth most firms started sending them to clients on a quarterly basis before ever asking and surveying their clients about whether it was what they really wanted and needed. Now, of course, clients have an expectation of receiving them regularly, and weening them off of a currently provided service can be difficult. But in the end, did clients really need that service, or do clients only expect because we created that expectation for them, but now will feel like we’re taking something away to change it?
Undoubtedly you have, at some point, been exposed to someone from Generation Y (born 1978-2000). It could be in the form of a colleague, an employee, restaurant server or even one of your kids. Gen Y, sometimes referred to as Millienals, Gen Text, and Gen Why have a unique set of characteristics. These characteristics often leave others from other generations, mainly baby boomers, scratching their heads. Since most financial planning firms tend to be owned by baby boomers, and most new financial planners tend to be Gen Y’s, conflict and misunderstandings because of generational differences are common. Fortunately, many can be solved with a little intergenerational coaching!
The growth of the financial planning profession over the past 40 years is a testament to the fundamental need that it serves; if financial planners weren’t delivering value, firms wouldn’t be growing the way that they are.
Yet for so many planning firms, there is no process to really evaluate what it is that clients want, and whether they’re receiving it. Instead, we craft an offering that we think clients will like, and then try to convince them to hire us to receive it.
But is that really the best way to build a business’ service offering?
As with many labor-intensive professional services, financial planning is not inexpensive to provide for clients. There are overhead costs, potential staffing costs, regulatory and compliance costs, in addition to the costs for software and services to support how professionals deliver their value. Accordingly, all of this is wrapped into the price that financial planners must charge their clients to earn a reasonable living and an adequate business profit. Yet often clients balk at the cost of financial planning. Which begs the question – if your clients think financial planning is expensive… to what are they comparing that cost?
Most young planners have heard the stories about how difficult it was in the past to start a financial planning firm. The business was all about products, and sales. It was an “eat what you kill” world – and if you couldn’t hunt effectively for business, you didn’t survive long. Yet the reality is that as the financial planning world changes and evolves, it is actually getting even harder to start a firm now than it was in the past. Because while it may have been difficult to sell products as a 20-something-year-old “kid” in order to survive a decade or two ago, that’s nothing compared to the challenge of trying to be a 20-something-year-old comprehensive financial planning expert who can build a deep advisory relationship with a stranger!