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Why Advisors’ Fees Are All Over the Map

June 3, 2013

Advisors’ fees show little consistency from firm to firm and may be the “least logical part of the financial advisory business,” writes Bob Veres in Advisor Perspectives.

After determining that most advisors charge less than they could, Veres polled 1,050 people who subscribe to his Inside Information service for financial professionals. He asked advisors how they charge clients, how their fee structure has evolved and, if they had raised fees, how clients reacted. He got back more than 150 responses, detailing 119 different fee structures.

Among the “oddities” that turned up, Veres writes, was the lack of a relationship between the fees advisors charged and the amount or quality of work that clients received. “Advisors charging 50 basis points on client portfolios reported that they provide comprehensive planning services. Advisors charging 150 basis points reported that they were managing assets with little planning work involved,” he writes.

In addition, firms differed on whether analysis and planning fees should be separate from those charged for asset management. And Veres found no professional consensus on what asset management fees should be, with more full-service advisors charging less for those services.

The survey’s most surprising finding was the “total lack of consistency in the breakpoint structures that advisors are applying to their ongoing AUM fees,” Veres writes. “Virtually every advisor who charges AUM fees uses different breakpoints.”

Up-front fees were also all over the map: A third of respondents didn’t charge any at all, and the others charged anywhere from $695 to $10,000 for work that was equally inconsistent. As for retainers, Veres says, “no two seem to be alike.”

He concludes that advisors don’t have much information about how their peers charge for services, so the industry has few benchmarks. Veres adds that clients aren’t savvy consumers of financial help, so asset gatherers can charge as much as, or more than, full-service advisors with no repercussions.

By Elizabeth Jensen
  • To read the Advisor Perspectives article cited in this story, click here.