While the push for consumer education regarding financial planning has grown over the last ten years or so, many folks still are confused about how financial planners are paid. Essentially, there are three types of planners: commissioned, fee-only, and fee-based.
Commissioned Advisors receive their pay from products they sell. This type of business model can create a conflict of interest. The dilemma starts when an advisor makes a recommendation of a product that will benefit his or her personal earnings. Is the product offered in the client’s best interest or in the interest of the advisor’s back pocket? This model can be extremely confusing for the client due to the lack of transparency of what the advisor is truly earning for the services rendered.
A fee-based advisor is an advisor who receives some commissions and charges a fee for other services. For example, a fee-based advisor may charge a flat fee for a comprehensive financial plan but may receive commissions for investment products sold. This business model is not conflict free. Again, confusion over the total fees earned by the advisor can be created by this model.
Fee-only advisors offer the easiest model when it comes to understanding fees. What the client pays the advisor is what the advisor earns for services rendered. This creates a clean and understandable relationship between client and advisor when it comes to fees. The client can rest at ease that the advisor is making a recommendation that is in the client’s best interest and not the advisor’s pocketbook. This model also allows the advisor to make referrals to outside professionals with the client’s best interest in hand.
Fee-only advisors don’t sell products, period. This knocks down walls between the client and advisor and allows for a better understand from a transactional view. This means the client will always know where they stand with the advisor in terms of fees. This puts the advisor in a fiduciary position and allows advice to be delivered with the client’s best interest in hand.
The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is a champion of fee-only financial planning and is a great place to get more information regarding fee-only planning, as well as finding a planner in your area. WWW.NAPFA.org