Alan Lakey: Why my clients won’t pay a fee

Having discussed the pro’s and con’s of the RDR with numerous industry stalwarts such as Roderic Rennison and Danby Bloch, I decided to bend to their considered opinions and test the imminent adviser charging experiment on my clients.

I selected carefully. I decided that to start with I would focus on lump-sum investments. I felt that a gentle introduction would be best so as not to terrify existing clients who might need to be weaned off the “free advice” they had been happily getting for over 25 years.

This translated into our old friend the commission offset model whereby I would estimate the time needed to provide the advice and would then transform the resulting time into a fee. The fee would be chargeable if the clients did not proceed but if I received any commission on the investments, this would reduce or wipe out the fee.

Enter Mr&Mrs B, she a legal secretary and he a golf club green keeper. Clients for 15 years, they had recently sold their property and were in receipt of £110,000 that they needed to invest with a focus on retirement income. Despite a broken leg, Mrs B and her husband braved the ninemile journey and they respectively hobbled and strode into my office.

Their desires were typical in that they evinced a cautious approach to investment but wanted growth beyond that available within deposit accounts. They had a 15 to 20-year timeframe and no requirement for pre-retirement income. Also, they each held pension plans invested in equities and fixed interest.

The discussion went well and I explained the novel method of charging that I now operated. I informed them that the FSA, which knows all about these things and is a force for the general good, had decided that it was in their interests for me to operate in this trans-parent manner and that they would be enfranchised. They nodded and made the appro-priate noises, no doubt silently thanking the denizens of E14.

I explained that their requirements would likely be met by a diversified portfolio of cash and investment Isas, high-interest accounts, National Savings & Investments, investments bonds and additional pension funding. I advised a fee of £750 which would be reduced or wiped out by any commission received.

A week later, they emailed explaining that they had sorted it via the Nationwide Building Society.

Now let us consider this. These were long-term existing clients for whom I had arranged mortgages, a pension plan and various life health and redundancy assurances. Apart from two cash Isas with Barclays Bank, they had used my services for every financial matter since 1996. They clearly trusted me and had made extraordinary efforts to visit despite the wife’s injury. The problem was neither trust nor lack of confi-dence that I could provide the solution, it was the fee.

These clients, like the majority of consumers, had not pre-viously paid or even discussed payment of a fee. Despite working for a solicitor and under-standing the fee structure, Mrs B did not feel comfortable with the idea. Of course it might be that it was because she worked for a solicitor that she did not feel comfortable.

So, having rejected the new customer charging world, they scurried down to Nationwide, which we know is tied to Legal & General. No doubt the nice man at Nationwide arranged a portfolio of investments with far higher charges and comm-ission than anything that I would have arranged with my 3 per cent maximum comm-ission stance. If these clients are typical, we will inhabit a very different world in 2013.

Alan Lakey is partner at Highclere Financial Services