After taking some flak from advisers for one advertising campaign, Charles Schwab has launched another that may be less controversial.
While Schwab says it values the more than 6,000 independent planners who bring in nearly a third of Schwabs assets under management, some of those advisers have been complaining for months that the company has started to step on their turf by promoting in-house financial planning services.
Last week though, Schwab took steps to reinforce its commitment to independent advisers by launching the first in a series of new advertisements. The ad, featuring independent planner David Bugen of Chatham, N.J., will appear in selected newspapers for the rest of the year.
Schwab officials said the ad complements the already existing campaign to promote its financial planning services and shows that independent advisers are a key component to serving affluent investors.
"When an affluent investor comes to Schwab looking for advice, advisers are a choice available to affluent investors -- be it at Schwab [branches], be it with someone who is independent who can offer more personalized advice, or to U.S. Trust for ongoing family wealth services. It depends on the investor. What Schwab is doing is educating that investor on what we have to offer to best meet their needs," said Lance Berg, a Schwab spokesman.
Although planners said that the ad campaign is a step in the right direction, they still have grievances about larger issues -- such as the perception that Schwab is trying to change its brand from trading platform to full-service fee planning. In addition, they are unhappy with the fact that Schwab does not offer 12b-1 fees to advisers who use the company.
"I approach this thing with a really healthy dose of skepticism," said Phil Cook, a CFP at Cook & Associates in Torrance, Calif. Cook said he does not -- and will not -- use Schwab because he believes the company does not really support independent advisers. "Its hard to trust anybody completely, so because of that I would be very suspicious ... Theyre just going to do whats best for them."
Not all planners are threatened by Schwabs movement into fee financial planning services, however, nor are they influenced by its latest round of advertising. "If Schwab can really sway [my] client, then its not a strong relationship," said Gary Vawter of Vawter Financial in Columbus, Ohio, who does use Schwab. "If theres a threat to the client relationship, its not because of Schwab, its because the adviser hasnt done what the client wants."
"When clients come to us, theyre looking for us to solve a problem. For them, Schwab is just a custodian," he said.