11 Ways Advisors Have Changed Their Fees

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If a digital tool can handle asset allocation and rebalancing for 35 basis points or less, how will advisors be able to keep justifying the industry standard of 1% of assets under management?

That question was at the heart of Financial Planning's April cover story, in which we looked at the ways some firms are changing their fee structure or their value proposition to respond to a shifting competitive landscape.

About a quarter of fee-only advisory firms we surveyed in February said they had changed their fee structure in the past year (as did 20% of all independent firms), and another 13% said they were likely or somewhat likely to alter their fees this year.

So what did they do? We combed through respondents' individual comments to identify several of the changes firms have made. See the full set, or click here to see the slideshow. 

1. 'We changed the taper, making our fees a bit heavier in the first $5 million.'

Many firms report challenges with "service creep," having to add costly and uncompensated services to keep clients happy. One solution is to charge more to clients with fewer assets.

Another advisor explained this differently, saying: "We've increased fees on smaller accounts."

2. 'Reduced fees for low-maintenance clients.'

Some clients represent the flip side of 'service creep' -- because they're easy to manage, the firm can afford to reduce fees.

3. 'Raised minimum quarterly fee and adjusted the fee percentage for clients who achieved higher asset level.'

Eliza De Pardo, the co-author (with Dan Inveen) of a new TD Ameritrade Institutional report on pricing trends, urged attendees at TDAI's national conference this year to implement a minimum fee for clients."'If you don't make any other changes to your pricing structure," she said, this "is the one to make."

4. 'We eliminated minimum fees and offered initial complimentary consultations to new clients.'

Some firms are going the other direction, reducing charges to bring more clients in the door.

5. 'Converted from transaction to fee-based.'

Across the financial services industry, assets have been flowing from commission based accounts to fee-based accounts.

6. 'Reduced minimum monthly fees for our high-end wealth management service and consolidated our AUM fees to a single rate.'

While some advisors are shifting to a la carte fees, others told us that their clients strongly preferred a simple, clear fee structure.

7. 'Moving away from percentage-of-assets fee to a fixed fee.'

With big brand-name players like Charles Schwab offering investment management for free, it may become harder for advisors to price their services to reflect the service they deliver. Fixed fee approaches create a separation between a client's portfolio and the service received.

8. 'Took on additional 401(k) business, which is billed on a project/hourly basis.'

As plan sponsors face increasingly complex rules, many planners see an opportunity in adding in 401(k) plan management for small to midsize businesses.

9. 'Increased fees and changed from six fixed levels to a formula based on total net worth.'

The firm that appeared on our April cover, The Planning Center, uses a fee formula that factors in both total net worth and annual income, which they say reduces potential conflicts of interest.

10. 'Changed the hourly fee planners charge for plan development.'

For those advisors who do charge separate fees for building a financial plan, it's important to keep an eye on costs so that a la carte offerings remain profitable.

11. 'Added an asset management category in addition to our full-service model.'

Segmentation is considered a key practice management strategy, so some planners are finding it profitable to add a lower-cost offering that also costs less to provide.

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