Not a millionaire? Pay for expert financial advice the same way you pay for Netflix

Darla Mercado
Not a millionaire? Pay for expert financial advice the same way you pay for Netflix
  • Financial advisors hoping to tap middle-class clientele are now adopting a subscription-fee model, charging clients monthly or quarterly for comprehensive financial planning.
  • Charles Schwab recently announced it would charge clients in its Intelligent Portfolios Premium service a one-time fee of $300 for financial planning, plus $30 a month.

Want to get your financial house in order? There's a monthly subscription service for that.

The same payment model that you use to cover Netflix NFLX and Spotify SPOT each month has arrived to the world of financial advice.

Charles Schwab SCHW recently announced it would start charging investors in its Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium service a one-time $300 fee for financial planning and a $30 monthly subscription.

Participating clients have access to a certified financial planner who can give them ongoing advice. Investors can then view and update their plan online as their goals shift.

The new subscription fee replaces an advisory fee of 0.28%, which was charged against the assets clients invest in the program. Clients need to have at least $25,000 to invest in order to participate.

"Having a set premium model with an ongoing subscription is the right solution for a given client," said Cynthia Loh, vice president of digital advice and innovation at Schwab.

"These are clients who are looking for advice, particularly in pivotal moments in their lives, including getting married or having a baby," Loh said. "They want to speak with an expert on how to better plan for their future."

Individual financial advisors are also offering subscription-fee planning — and you can get it without a huge nest egg.

"It works really well for younger people who don't have assets or who are looking to manage money on their own, and they want financial planning guidance along with that," said Eric Roberge, a CFP and founder of Beyond Your Hammock in Boston.

Attention to fees

Traditionally, financial advisors have charged investors about 1% of the assets they manage in order to pay for their services.

"If you have an assets-under-management fee model and your investments do well, your revenues go way up," said Vanessa Oligino, director, business performance solutions at TD Ameritrade Institutional.

However, as the cost of investing has gone down — for instance, Fidelity launched its zero-fee funds last year — investors want advisors to justify their fees and provide more value than just their investment prowess.

"Advisors have to be much more articulate and deliberate in saying 'Here are the financial planning services,'" said Dennis Gallant, senior analyst at Aite Group.

"There's fee compression, the commoditization of asset management to some degree, boomers retiring and millennials moving up — all of this accelerates the solution toward advice," he said.

That guidance includes budgeting, understanding employee benefits and investing in your 401(k), as well as advice amid major life changes, including marriage, having a baby and paying for college.

Monthly retainers

The amount you pay for a subscription-based relationship with an advisor could vary.

For instance, financial advisors who are part of XY Planning Network don't require clients to have a minimum level of assets in order to work with them. They may charge a start-up fee, along with a monthly retainer fee.

"Most people at the wirehouses don't want to help someone who is 25 years old, has $30,000 in a 401(k) and $1,000 in the bank," said Rockie Zeigler, a CFP and founder of RP Zeigler Investment Services in Peoria, Illinois.

He charges his subscription-fee clients $500 upfront, plus a $150 monthly fee.

For that cost, clients get four to six personal conversations annually, ongoing communication with the firm, a twice-yearly review of their 401(k) plan and more.

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The level of interaction you'll get will also vary based on your circumstances and the advisor's service offering.

"Some advisors are very hands-on and meet monthly each year because they're doing cash-flow coaching and it takes that intensity to learn how to build those savings habits," said Roberge.

He charges an upfront cost of $2,000, and a monthly retainer of $200 for the first year of service.

In that time, Roberge builds a plan for the client, implements it over the year, and meets with the client about six times.

"In between, you have access to me if there's something urgent and that can't wait," he said.

Finding the right pro

It'll take some footwork to find the best advisor for you, but here's where to begin.

• Vet your professional: Dig up your advisor's details on the Securities and Exchange Commission's website, as well as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's BrokerCheck page. These sites provide details on disciplinary actions, state licensing and years of experience.

• Ask if your advisor is a fiduciary: Confirm in writing that your financial advisor is acting in your best interest and puts your needs before his or her own.

• Find out how they're paid: Whether you're selecting an advisor under the AUM model or the subscription-fee model, ask about how much you're paying and how often will you pay your professional.

• Know what you're getting: Whether it's a set number of meetings, infinite access via phone or email, or a written financial plan with quarterly goals, understand the service you'll get – and get it in writing.

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