The Powerful Evolution in Fee Structures

Some years ago, in the very early 1990s, I made a bold prediction. In my magazine columns and in my Inside Information newsletter, I predicted that the commission-based revenue model was in the process of exiting the financial planning/financial services world. Before long, I said, commissions would be replaced by fees paid by clients directly to their advisors.

Going further, I bravely predicted that the still-very-new AUM revenue model, where advisors and planners charged their clients a percentage of the client’s investible assets, would become the mainstream way to collect those fees.

At the time, I received no small amount of pushback from leading professionals, and volumes of what can only be described as ”hate mail” from professional salespeople. Simply writing those words threatened their comfortable livelihoods, and there was a widespread belief that, “people will simply not pay for financial planning advice.”

That long-ago prediction turned out better than a few of my others.

About 10 years ago, I sensed another change coming, and began to talk about a shift away from AUM to more direct-fee models: chiefly flat fee monthly or quarterly “retainers” like the revenue model that has long been used by members of the Society of Financial Services Professionals. However, this time I expected the profession to migrate to more diverse structures, recognizing that the Garrett Network advisors were charging hourly and project-based fees, and the founders of the XY Planning Network were starting to talk about monthly subscription-based fees for younger clients.

Once again, the response in the profession was less than enthusiastic.