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The Advicer

Aug. 10, 2022, 12:47 p.m. EDT

Are you still paying 1% to your financial adviser? Here’s what might make a lot more sense — and save you tens of thousands of dollars

Alisa Wolfson

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Many financial advisers charge based on how much money they manage on your behalf, and 1% of your total assets under management is a pretty standard fee. But psst: If you have over $1 million, a flat fee might make a lot more financial sense for you, pros say. (Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can help you get matched with a planner who meets your needs.)

“Under $1 million dollars of investable assets, the flat fee may consume a very large percentage of their account and that would not be smart or advisable for the client,” says Paddock. In general, clients would do well to understand that percentage fees work well on smaller balances while flat fees are best for larger asset balances — and using the $1 million dollar threshold can be an easy way to draw a line in the sand for a client, says Kaleb Paddock, certified financial planner at Ten Talents Financial Planning.

Let’s do some math to show you how much that 1% might cost you on a larger account balance. If you have, say, $3 million to invest and you hire a financial adviser at a typical fee — 0.8% to 1% — that is going to cost you $25,000 – $30,000 a year. But a flat fee can often be far more affordable than that, says Kaleb Paddock, certified financial planner at Ten Talents Financial Planning. He says on a portfolio like this you might pay a little under $10,000 a year with a flat fee, which “would save them between $15,000 and $20,000 annually,” he notes. 

Or as certified financial planner Chris Russell at Tempus Pecunia notes: “Why should a client with $4 million dollars pay twice as much as a client with $2 million dollars? They’re getting the same or very similar service at a different price which is inequitable and doesn’t make sense,” says Russell. 

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And then consider this: If you rolled a $500,000 balance into your $1 million dollar account — and now had to pay a set percentage of the now $1.5 million balance — is it really worth it to pay 50% more (that’s more than $400 a month) just because you put more money into the account?  “Although the 1% AUM fee is standard, it does not align with the time, energy and expertise required to provide comprehensive financial advice and investment management services at different asset levels,” says Cody Garrett, certified financial planner at Measure Twice Financial. 

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“If your portfolio value drops 20% during a market correction, has your adviser provided 20% less value? Percentage-based pricing is only affordable for both advisers and clients within a small portfolio range, say between $250,000 and $1 million dollars,” says Garrett. Though the 1% AUM fee is reasonable for clients with smaller account balances, most advisers require account minimums and turn away young accumulators to maintain profitability for the firm. 

How does a flat fee work?

Many flat-fee advisers set the same amount for each household, such as $7,500 per year, paid monthly or quarterly, says Garrett. “This would be an ideal annual fee for a client with investments exceeding $750,000. With an account balance of $2.5 million dollars, the effective AUM percentage would be 0.3%, which is much lower than the industry standard. Once the annual fee exceeds $10,000, the service should directly reflect the complexity of financial planning rather than the account balance itself,” says Garrett.

Can I negotiate the percentage I pay my adviser? 

The short answer is yes . Ken Robinson, certified financial planner at Practical Financial Planning, says while a 1% fee may be common, advisers who charge based on AUM are increasingly scaling down from 1% at lower thresholds in the past. 

But if you get a lot of service, the 1% fee isn’t always a bad thing. “What does the 1% pay for? Investment advice? Investment advice and implementation? Investment advice and implementation and tax planning? Investment advice and implementation, tax planning and social security planning? Of course price is important, but just as with buying a product, it’s not the only consideration and may not even be the most important,” says Robinson.

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