A new investment firm is promising to shake up the way Americans invest by providing individuals with direct access to institutionally priced mutual funds and other investments.

InvestForLess LLC, a registered investment advisory firm based in Alexandria, Va., will charge a flat annual fee of $250 per investor for access to its platform and suite of tools. The company charges neither commissions nor fees based on asset levels.

"We liken it to a 'Costco model' for investments," said Kevin Knull, the company's chief executive officer. "We're a less-expensive way to buy and own investments."

The company's portal is aimed at fee-conscious, self-directed investors who want to de-couple their investment management from other financial planning services. InvestForLess is positioning the portal primarily as a way to buy mutual funds.

InvestForLess lets investors avoid marketing and sales costs common to retail investments, the company argues.

The difference in costs between retail and institutional mutual fund share classes can be considerable, according to the company. In an example on the company's website, a $100,000 investment in A-shares of American Funds' Growth Fund of America grew to $108,765 after five years, but an adviser-class share surpassed it, at $111,650.

Classes A, B, C & I

"The hard part at the end of the day is education," Knull said. "Investors just don't know that share classes exist."

At the same time, a spokesman for the company said, the disparity in fees paid by different kinds of mutual fund clients is under scrutiny from the federal government. For instance, the Supreme Court is weighing Jones v. Harris, a case in which a group of retail investors is suing Oakmark Associates over what they claim are excessive fees charged by Harris Associates, the funds' advisor.

InvestForLess does not disparage individuals from seeking advice. To the contrary, it recommends clients seek it out. But the company suggests getting advice in a flat "fee-for-service" model that it says is best for the average investor.

To that end, the company is creating a nationwide network of professionals who are either certified financial planners or who have at least a decade of financial planning experience-and a spotless client service record. Professionals in the network will be limited to those who charge an hourly or a flat rate; all rates and fees will be disclosed in the InvestForLess adviser directory.

The savings gained by using advisers' services for just four or five hours a year, as opposed to paying them an ongoing fee, can be substantial, Knull said.

"If you require little advice, it's an enormous value for you," he said.

InvestForLess' revenues come only in the form of the $250 annual fee. The company won't accept revenue or soft-dollar reimbursement from advisers or from investment product providers, Knull said. The company is set up to avoid bias toward any product or adviser, he explained.

Another key feature of the InvestForLess portal is its online financial planning platform. The tool, FinanceLogix, takes into account investors' assets and liabilities. It allows users to identify all their investments and assets and quantify future goals, and with this information in hand, it provides a plan of action for meeting the goals.

InvestForLess does appear to be innovative, said Doug Dannemiller, a senior analyst at research firm Aite Group. Dannemiller compared it to MarketRiders, which has a investment modeling tool built around exchange-traded funds, although it lacks an investment platform.

"These are two low-cost approaches to helping smaller investors get some help with investment selection at an affordable price," he said.

He added that certain mutual funds carry transaction charges, which would be above and beyond the $250 annual fee for access to the platform.

InvestForLess is being marketed to individuals, but the company hopes to grow quickly by selling it to employers as a benefit to offer their workers, Knull said. Current employees can use some of the portal's features, and retiring ones can add the investment platform, he said.

"We have to get scale," said Knull. "This is truly a wholesale model."

(c) Copyright 2010 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

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