It can be confusing to know how, or why, to charge fees for your financial planning services. Especially if you don’t understand the value of the wisdom you’re providing, how can you put a monetary value on that wisdom and how can you expect your client to buy into that value?
In a recent Bucket Plan On-Demand podcast episode, Jason L Smith and Dave Alison sat down with C2P advisor, DC Chamberlin, to discuss his own journey from reluctantly charging fees to now charging the most fees within the organization. DC talks about the moment he began to trust in the value of what he was offering and how, in turn, this helped him to gain the trust of his clients, start selling his process and successfully charge fees.
Gaining Client Trust
Although it can seem counterintuitive at first, charging planning fees can actually establish more trust between clients and advisors. As Dave puts it, “when you pay for something, you value it more.” People pay their doctors, their lawyers, their CPAs. When advisors charge for services, they’re letting their clients know that they are also trusted professionals. They are being paid just like any other professionals who dedicate their time and energy to helping clients navigate complex life issues and bring solutions to the table for long-term benefits. According to DC, the difference in both the level of his clients and the way his clients viewed him after starting to charge fees was astronomical.
Charging fees up front is a good way to establish this trust right off the bat. However, for advisors who are just starting out or who are still uncomfortable with charging fees, it’s okay to try a different route. DC recounts that for a long time he was very opposed to the idea of charging planning fees. He didn’t want to do it and he worried that it would just be another obstacle to increasing his closing ratio. Instead of charging the full (or sometimes any) planning fees, he focused for a while on just getting his clients to commit. Once he was able to get his foot in the door with them, using his planning knowledge to get them to move their assets over, the value of that knowledge suddenly became clear to him.
“So that was kind of my foot in the door, I wasn’t even quite yet charging a fee. I was just talking about it. And I realized The Family Estate Organizer in that case sealed the deal on a $1.8 million client. And that was where a switch kind of flipped. And I was like, ‘Okay, well, let’s start doing this now.’”
It was still a progression for DC from there, but the key thing he realized was that it’s the wisdom behind The Bucket Plan process that gained the trust and the commitment of the client to move their assets. That wisdom was valuable.
Selling the Planning Process
Advisors have the opportunity to be compensated in two ways – by monetizing their time through charging planning fees and by getting compensated for helping clients on the implementation of their wealth management. By viewing these compensation avenues as two different opportunities, you can begin to look at charging planning fees as selling the process, rather than the product. Unbundling the process from the product in this way also benefits the client because it disarms them. Dave explains, “They don’t feel like they’re going to get sold something or like they have to buy something, you know? I use the analogy… it gives us a chance to date before we need to get married. And at the end of it, if either of us feel like it’s not a good dating relationship, let’s be open and honest with each other, and either of us can back away for any reason.”
Charging planning fees takes the pressure off of clients to feel like they have to otherwise reciprocate by moving assets. Many advisors hesitate to charge planning fees in order to keep that pressure there, but what Jason has found is that most of his more sophisticated clients really don’t want that pressure.
“They want to go in there, they want to be educated, and they want to make their own decisions. They want to feel empowered to make their own decisions, and not that they’re going to feel this awkward pressure at the end. And so, what I found was it increased my closing ratio.”
How to Charge Planning Fees
When talking about unbundling planning fees from wealth management, there are several ways to charge:
- There’s an annual retainer model
- A model for charging a flat fee for a bundle of different services
- An ala carte model where each service has an associated price and that equals what you end up charging
- And then an hourly rate
For Jason, Dave and DC, the flat-fee model has worked the best. DC’s experience is to charge for just about everything that anybody could do, so that there’s a flat fee for a specific package of services. It can be customizable what those specific services are, depending on the client. Some might not need Social Security, or some might really need tax planning more than anything else. But the nice thing about a flat fee is that you can tell your clients exactly what you’re charging them for, as well as what you would charge anyone else, regardless of asset size. This helps convey that clients aren’t being nickel and dimed because they have more or less assets.
Jason has moved from an ongoing retainer model to a flat-fee model as well. In instances where a client is very clear up front that they are only there for planning services, and not to move assets, he will still charge an hourly rate. Other than that, however, he will charge a flat fee for services and offer a 50% discount of the fee if and when they do move their assets.
“So, we incentivize them to move assets, and we simply explain to them that we’re paid by the financial institutions they do business with, for the wealth management services we provide. So, if you become a wealth management client, we actually waive the second half of the fee, in essence, giving a 50% discount.”
Dave has also moved from an ongoing retainer model and was able to use COVID as an opportunity to transition his last business-owner clients from that model. What Dave has found is that he was almost always losing on the retainer model, ultimately doing more work than he ever earned if he added up his hourly rate. Dave explains that the flat-fee model is an opportunity to be upfront with people, not only about the cost of his services but also about whether his services are a right fit for the prospects he’s talking to.
“When I do my Discovery meetings with them, or my Right Fit Calls, I say up front who my ideal clients are. And when I say it, I say the people I do the best work for are the people who are wealth management clients, the families that really interest us to be a fiduciary and oversee everything. If you’re not going down that route, I can perform really good individual services, whether it’s taxes or financial planning, but it’s not where I do my best work.”
In this way, charging planning fees not only establishes trust among clients but it establishes transparency with prospects around the services, wisdom and deliverables you are going to provide. This kind of transparency allows you to have that conversation up front and to decide right away if the fit is right between you and a prospect.
You can also click here to speak with one of our Business Development Representatives, and find out how to implement planning fees at your business.