Recent news about a new fiduciary rule has left many folks more confused than ever about fee structures, and concerned about whether they’re getting the best value from their financial advisor’s fees or their brokerage firm’s fee structure. According to a recent podcast from the Wall Street Journal, it’s not only how much you pay – but also what you are paying for – that’s a source of communication breakdown between those clients and their advisors.
While the Department of Labor is pushing to get advisors and brokers to make it easier for clients to understand their fee structures, so far it doesn’t look like many of the bigger firms are taking them up on it.
Since any firm or advisor can claim to be client-driven, transparent, and “fee-based,” how can you be completely sure about what you’re getting and how much you’re paying? If your advisor is fee-based, rather than strictly fee-only, they may be earning commissions when they recommend certain investment products. Obviously, that creates a potential conflict of interest: those advisors have incentives to trade more frequently, and to recommend specific products in order to generate higher commissions for themselves and their firm, whether or not they’re best for you.
One way to avoid uncertainty – and the potential headaches it brings – is to work with a fee-only registered investment advisory firm (RIA). Fee-only RIAs and advisors do not earn commissions so they are not motivated by the frequency of trades, so they are less likely to encourage buying and selling unless it’s the best choice for you. Because RIAs are held to a fiduciary standard, they are legally bound to always – and only – act in your best interest.
Do your advisor’s fee include additional services?
Even if you are working with a fee-only RIA, however, you may be still not getting your full money’s worth. Many clients neglect to take advantage of untapped services that are included in their advisor’s fees, such as tax and estate planning, insurance advice, and financial coaching, among other services. If you’re not sure what additional services your advisor – or the advisors you are considering – provide, ask them. It’s the best way to ensure that there’s an open path of communication and that you are getting the most value out of your wealth management experience.
Only you can decide what kind of fee structure is best for you, what you feel is the appropriate amount to spend on investment management and financial planning, and what additional services are important to you to help you grow your wealth.
If you’re concerned you’re not getting your money’s worth, though, or that you’re paying too much, here are some good questions to ask yourself: How adequately served do you think you are? Are you confused with what services you are getting and what you are paying for? Do you feel valued? Are your goals being met and are you being listened to?
If you’re not satisfied with the answers to any of these questions, remember that you have options. Sherman Wealth Management is proud to be a fee-only independent RIA firm, because we feel it is the best way to meet our ethical standards and guarantee that all potential clients have a simple and cost-effective way to access investment management and financial planning.
Knowing what those options are, and getting clarity in your fee structures – whatever kind of advisor you ultimately choose – will allow you to feel more confident about the decisions you make, now and for your future.
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