After a tumultuous week I find it is helpful to ask what did I learn? The weekend financial press is full of anecdotes to instruct us on what to do next. I’ve found that either I forget their advice or find that it is not effective. While listening to Brene Brown on a recent Armchair Expert podcast I gleaned some wisdom that I will share. Her wisdom was to focus on our own pain before we create pain by criticising others. This week I will focus on the pain in the wealth advisory business above and beyond the recent market swoon.
The fiduciary mantra of putting the client’s interest ahead of our own can be tested during times like last week. We will look at what got tested and how we can address the three main challenges from the same side of the table as our clients.
We offer clients numerous services that are all bundled into the fee we charge. The services include financial planning, investment management, retirement planning, family governance, estate planning and college savings plans. Independent bundles are more comprehensive than the bundled fees of large Wall Street firms which focus exclusively on investment management. Bundling fees is a shell game that can shift prospective client’s focus off of fees and on to all of the services you receive for "free". While bundling might facilitate sales it also creates client questions and ultimately distrust. The question of what am I paying for? is a fair question. We must be able to answer that question to truly sit on the same side of the table as our clients.
Investment management is a catch-all term advisors use that can mean several
different services. Most advisors are providing investment consulting that involves asset allocation and money manager selection. Some jaded ex-Wall Street advisors are finding it hard to forget the conflicted asset allocation and proprietary manager selection their clients experienced. These advisors attempt to solve legacy problems by investing in ETFs and complementing the core ETFs with satellite investments in personally sourced alternative investments. The other surprising solution is that some advisors act as a portfolio manager and make their own stock and bond investments. Does this put us on the same side of the table?
Our hope is that more wealth management firms would offer an a la carte fee schedule. The fee schedule would unbundle and disclose the fee for each service the advisory firm provides. This allows the client to chose the services that they need. The risk is that the unbundled fees can initially seem higher than the hidden bundled fees. The advisor will need to explain the cost/benefit of each fee and let the family chose what works best for them. An unbundled fee will build trust and allow the advisor and the family to finally sit of the same side of the table without any secrets.
Finally, if we want to sit on the same side of the table we must mind our manners and chew with our mouth closed.