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Simon Webster: Clients will pay fees if you demonstrate your worth

Last week, an adviser told me: “A client will not pay me £500 to tell him to put £500 a month into a pension.” I am sure the adviser is correct but with many advisers already successfully charging a fee for recommendations to make monthly payments into investment products, why do others find it so challenging?

For much of my 30-year career I have been remunerated on commission only. But over the last 10 years as commission rates have steadily fallen, particularly in the pension arena, we started charging fees.

From 2013, there will be no commission on investment business so devising a systematic fee-charging model is a priority. Moving from ad hoc fee-charging to a full-blown system requires serious thought, however.

We have made a number of informal attempts to market-test different fee structures and have started to recognise some trends.

Our clients have no objection to paying us properly for decent advice and service but good service is essential. It is vital that we make sure our definition of good service and the client’s coincide upfront.

The principal product we sell is advice and our principal cost is time. We add value for the client but, in doing so, we take on liability. What we charge must cover time and liability but should also reflect the full value we add.

I recently received a liquidator’s report from PwC where the senior partner was charged at £460 per hour and junior accountants at £230 or more, all plus VAT. On that basis, my starting point of £195 per hour not subject to VAT looks pretty reasonable, based on wages cost, overhead, liability allocation and an element of value. I charge my admin team at £75 per hour on much the same basis.

We then need a route to market, so it is important to think about positioning. Once we understand why solving a particular problem is important to the client we can try to make sure we really do solve the problem and we can also make sure we demonstrate that in solving that problem we have really added value. This underpins the justification for our fee.

When we offer our fee proposal, we can couch it in terms that relate to the client’s problem and to the value we create in fully identifying the problem then planning for and implementing the solution.

These are three discrete tasks. Sometimes the client will know the problem but have no idea how to plan or implement and sometimes he will not even know the problem. But each of these three key adviser roles has a value and each ought to command a price.

I quite like the idea of being able to charge every client that walks through the door.

Simon Webster is managing director of Facts & Figures


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There are 22 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I’m glad it works for you Simon, but for many many of us, it won’t! The people we deal with, rich and poor, in the main, will not pay fees. They will end up taking no advice or going to their bank.

  2. Very laudable and well-worded Simon and fair play to you for achieving this. However, there are not many who will be able to achieve what you have and unfortunately businesses like yours alone will not feed such a greedy industry, so we need to look at the majority and not a minority, as we all help to help each other, like it or not!

    As you know, your strategy takes many years to implement and that is not time that the majority will now have, as the industry’s overhead has burgeoned to the extent where many of us work until Wednesday for everyone else’s benefit already!

    There seems to me to be an obvious solution (and please tell me otherwise if I am wrong!), which should satisfy IFAs’ and clients/customers alike and that is that, for IFAs’ that do not feel that client fees are a workable proposition for certain circumstances, then, if a product sale is deemed appropriate for a client/customer, then, assuming that certain investment products are allocated at, say 102% (sounds familiar?) then under a ‘product’ adviser fee basis, the adviser can still receive remuneration of 2% of the sale, whilst ensuring that the client receives 100% investment allocation.. Absurd? Why? The provider imposes an early surrender penalty to recoup its outlay, if the product is surrendered in the early years (sounds familiar again) and the client receives fair value, so all parties are satisfied.

    After all, what business is able to put its product into market without paying a distribution channel for so doing ?

    Any product provider that thinks they will be able to market their products without a distribution cost under RDR, is either being very naïve, or completely deluded. IFAs‘ would find their time better spent in terms of challenging this position, rather than seemingly accepting it, because I have questioned the matter and my understanding thus far, has been that there is no problem with providers structuring their offering on a commercially competitive basis, as long as they don‘t seek to pay ‘commission.’

    The solution may be there, we just need to stop arguing amongst ourselves as to whom is better. There is a need for all of us!

  3. Simon you are talking crap!

    If you for one moment think that Clients on an average of £25k a year or less (£13 an hour or so) are going to pay you (or any adviser outside the London / Leafy suburbs) £195 per hour – you have your head up your a**.

    It’s a bit like the Banker’s Bonus’s – contractually & knowledge / outgoings wise – might be acceptable – but morally & while families are trying to keep a roof over their head & food on the table (for more & more of middle Britain anyway) it stinks!


  4. I agree absolutely with the above post. A small minority of the public will pay fees but the vast majority simply won’t, however skillfully I present my proposition.

  5. A conundrum.

    Are fees charged or are they offset against funds invested -taken off the top line?

    many who say they charge fees really don’t.

    Oddly enough I too am dealing with PWC as the Trustee in bankruptcy and they stick it on alright. Similarly with a pensions lawyer dealing with a small final salary scheme trying to wind up – work for works sake to increase the fees is the order of the day.

  6. Simon, this article reads well and seems to make sense, but….. in the real world, average income clients won’t just buy the story and whip out their cheque books. Whatever the real truth behind RDR is, the result is that a fee charged full IFA planning proposition is only viable for HNW clients. The banks will take the rest, although I am sure a few IFA firms will hang on for a year or two until the penny finally drops that the game is up. The saddest thing about all this is that I speak to many other advisers that used to care a lot about their jobs who have lost interest in the whole thing – but intend to keep muddling along in a depressed, irritated state. That isn’t good for the adviser or the client.

  7. Excellent article, Simon.
    Probably a good job you didn’t invest too much time in telling us how you add value, as many of the people who have commented, have stopped listening

  8. Dermot..Engage your brain and stop being so patronising.Without the rest of the adviser sector, in whatever form and whatever client profile we may have, you will struggle.Like it or not!

    I will refer you to my earlier comment, for ease of reading, as obviously your time is very valuable…’The solution may be there, we just need to stop arguing amongst ourselves as to whom is better. There is a need for all of us!’

  9. You are right there Dermot, lots of people have stopped listening, quite some time ago. The ones with sense put their effort and money into commercial propositions that make money, rather than pursuing a business model forced upon them by the Regulator, who, pretty plainly, wants you to go out of business and has the means to make sure that is exactly what happens.

  10. We have clients, adults with children on £8 per hour, how can we possibly charge them?

  11. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that a very significant majority of IFA’s dealing with mostly non-HNW individuals find it very difficult to persuade them to pay fees for advice on most of the subject areas on which our knowledge lies.

    Pensions? I need hardly set out all the reasons for the public’s general antipathy towards just about anything to do with (private sector) pensions, and the government’s doing nothing to improve things either. Investments? Confidence in investment markets (rightly or wrongly) is currently in tatters. Life Insurance? Cheaper online or via Tesco. Income Protection? Too flipping expensive. IHT? Don’t like the idea of the tax, but not prepared to spend any money on dealing with the issue.

    So what are you going to do Mr Client? Ermmm ~ I’ll think about it and get back to you. That’s the reality of proposing fees to most people of ordinary means. And people working in the public sector are the most difficult of all to persuade that advice = fees.

  12. Rushworth Laird Financial 7th February 2012 at 5:01 pm

    R.E. Nick’s comment – £8ph is still higher than a fair few jobs are paying…are there going to be enough HNW clients to go around?

    A smart move would be to supplement financial advice (clients generally decreasing in number) with a sideline of debt advice (unlimited supply of desperate clients). But then, they’re going to be even less likely to afford the fees…

    Best to wait for government to nationalise the whole financial advice sector and recruit all IFA’s into the Money Advice Service – at least there’ll be free mugs, pens and mousemats. Probably.

  13. The RDR does not require any consumer to pay fees by cheque/from their net pay for financial advice.

    Adviser charging, where the cost of advice is deducted from a financial product and agreed between adviser and client replaces commission determined by the product provider. This means that an IFA who post RDR wants to deliver advice, but only get paid if the client buys a financial product, (just like now for many advisers via commission) may continue to do so.

    Of course the abolition of factoring for adviser charging (the key mistake made by the regulator in this change) makes this more difficult for regular investment products but not impossible.

    I never thought that commission introduced product bias (and not much provider bias either) but let’s not make adviser charging out to be difficult because it isn’t. And let’s not make it out to mean clients having to pay fees because it’s not that either.

    @Nick 4.00 Question- How does your client on £8 per hour pay for advice now?

  14. Nomatter the model, there will always be people who lose out on their investments. Joe Public is not going to want to pay an up front fee without the reassurance that what they are doing is a cast iron guarantee for a decent return. Who is going to be able to offer that? People with less wealth can’t afford to wait 5-10yrs to see if what they’ve done is good for them. “Trust me I’m a financial adviser” isn’t going to wash with a lot of people.

    I’m pretty sure if remuneration was paid based on actual return on investment then people wouldn’t have an issue. However, paying an up front fee for the possibility of a return is a bit harder to swallow.

  15. OK guys, why not take a step back and look at the business case as for why factored commission is not a good remuneration model and perhaps why clients earning £8 an hour are not good clients for a professional financial planning practice. I know someone will shoot me down but I am not denigrating low earners or historic business models. God knows that after over 25 years of doing it, I wish I changed my model about 24 and a half years ago!

    Look for example at how much energy, resource and risk goes into arranging some life cover for a low earning client. The business goes on risk, commission is paid and the 4 year indemnity period kicks in. Client loses his job, looks at his DDM’s and the first thing that gets cancelled is the life or PHI/CIC policy.

    Great, about 20 hour’s work and you end up paying a clawback, and all the fee offset through commission clauses in your terms of engagement are not worth a stuff as the client is skint.

    But go a step further, as a professional financial planner, especially if independent and thus working for your client, why does needing to rely on selling a product in order to be paid for the work done represent a good business model. This must create a conflict apart from not being a great return for capital employed, risk, hours of learning and knowledge and skill imparted.

    If one wishes to do charity work, do it freely on a pro-bono basis. If the game is to sell and sell product tbecause there is a need to create income then independent planning is not the game in town.

    The product providers who devised indemnity commission in the late 70’s/early 80’s probably thought it was a great marketing idea. They’ll stuff you now with the land grab over assets under management.

    Engage with your real clients, it may be hard initially drom a commercial perspective but we’ve been living in a bubble where the need for selling product and absurd commission levels have distorted the advisory process.

    Leave RDR aside, it’s time to move on and I agree with Simon’s comments. We did it 6 years ago and it’s not easy, but it is worthwhile.

  16. MAS and nest rule 8th February 2012 at 12:19 am

    mr Branford your definition of adviser charging is fundamentally flawed. Adviser Charging does not require you to take the charge from the product , it would work with a cheque.

    This article was a statement of the obvious, show value and expect to be paid. Unfortunately for the Product bashers in this forum it’s a bridge too far. To all you , happy extinction and from a customer perspective …good riddance!

  17. Simon is right and Duncan Carter sums it up perfectly.

    For the rest of the half wits who disagree with the obvious, just get this:

    Clients on £25k a year, or earning £8ph DON’T NEED COMPLEX FINANCIAL ADVICE.

    Is it really hard to get that into your heads?

    No, you don’t need complex financial advice for a life assurance or income protection contract. For it’s worth, why pay someone to clarify definitions and exclusions. Products will be simplified – if you’re ill, or die, you will be paid an amount.

    So what Duncan says is true. The highly qualified advisers knowledge will mainly benefit those on higher incomes. That’s that.

    Get this simple thing into your heads and move on, or, move out.

  18. Umm Harry!

    Clients who earn £25k a year very much need advice..Just probably not the sort of advice that you prefer to give I guess! Dear oh dear!!

  19. Interesting !!

    I have been working a fee based service for about the past 4/5 years, in the main a mixture of retainers and fees.

    One thing you have alluded to mention is how many clients have you lost ? I know from personal analysis my count stands at around 80% of my client base.

    One thing that has allowed me to continue business with the 80% that will not pay fees is being able to transact on a comission basis.

    One thing we all need to sure of is, that their are those who get it and those who dont !!

    I have not come across 1 client who thinks they get a free service or we do not get paid for recommending a product, the point is we should be able to offer the client a choice which is now being denied !!!

    One simple fact that makes RDR a massive failure!!!

  20. @MAS and nest rule please re- read (why are you so frightened to enter into a debate where you publish your name?) I simply said it could be paid from the product. What you describe where the client pays by cheque is called a fee.

  21. @ Steve – you are right, they need advice, but not complex advice where they would need to pay a fee.

    That’s why what the Bamfords are doing for that segment of the market is great – both for their business and the public.

    When we get enquiries for advice, a quick 5 minute phone conversation will tell us whether someone needs our advice or can DIY through a flowchart system. We need not waste their time or ours by opening a file.

    And no, it isn’t based on “how much money do you have in investments or pensions so we can charge you a percentage of it…”

    eg. recent online enquiry where client had over £400k in fully crystalised drawdown through sippdeal. angry that the annual payment has gone down suddenly, has no appitite for risk as this is all they have in addition to a mortgage free house. So the polite answer was to annuitise – look online and find out. This after they gasped at paying £750 +VAT for suitability on the drawdown…

    There’s little point, or time, in trying to educate such clients. What is best for them is probably the MAS!

  22. I am finding it difficult understanding all these statements that client’s won’t pay fees which brings me to question both how many clients you have asked and how you asked them? I have been in the industry 22 years and 16 months ago decided to go fully fee based – no exceptions – I refuse to take commission on pension and investment business.

    I set me fee intitially at 3% and 0.5% trail and last year had my best year ever, with issued business about 3x the previous best. This year I have amended the fee to 2.6% and 1% trail and so far had a better January that I did last year. In fact if a client doesn’t want to pay the trail I have threatened to walk away – this has occurred 3 times and each time the client relented and I wrote the business.

    Sure I only get about half of the Engagement Letters that I send out returned signed but that is probably just as well because if they all returned them I wouldn’t be able to deal with them all.

    I also think that I am losing some business to advisers who are delivering on a commission basis but I am not too worried by that because after December 2012 they won’t have a choice – the adviser or the client.

    Make no mistake, clients will pay a fee if you ask them and advise them of the value added for the advice. Above all clients want someone to hold their hand and to call when things get a bit tricky in the markets.

    So tell the clients how much you are going to charge them and the value that they will receive and you will have a good long term client.

    Gone are the days when I would go out on a cold wet dark Friday night to see a ‘client’ with a pension plan report that has taken me two or three hours to put together only to be told’ thanks very much I will read it and get back to you’. I charge a fee for the initial Report – now, no pay, no play as far as I am concerned.

    When I started with Legal & General in 1990 there used to be loads of blokes telling each other around the coffee machine about how and what they were going to do while the rest of us went out and did it. This was the Pareto principal at play – 80% telling everyone else how it can’t be done and the other 20% going out and doing it.

    Wise up? Red Rum won three Grand Nationals as an outsider and the problem was nobody told him he couldn’t do it because he wasn’t the favourite!

    Go out and tell your clients the value that you are going to give them – in 10 months they won’t have a choice anyway and if you don’t tell them you will lose them to someone like the 20% who will and they will take them off you as clients! Don’t be a coffee machine waster.

    It’s really as simple and as easy as that!

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