Broker Check

Is bundling asset management & financial planning fees ever clients' best interests?

| January 23, 2017

"Bundling" (combining) pricing of two different items is sometimes done for asset (investment) management fees and financial planning fees.  Is it ever "fiduciary" ... in clients' best interests ... to bundle?  

It wasn't for IBM's clients

For those unfamiliar with this arcane bit of business history, a brief.  Way back in the day, IBM sold hardware and software together ... "bundled" at one price.  So at that time, IBM computers were "closed" ... vaguely analogous to Apple.  Other software suppliers (which hardly even existed independently at that time) were simply unable to provide software that would work on an IBM computer.  Nor could an IBM customer on their own readily purchase any outside (non-IBM) software to work on their IBM computer.  Under threat of antitrust action, IBM "unbundled" the pricing of software and hardware, thus, according to their own website, giving birth to the software industry.

Are you paying for financial planning as a separate fee?  Or is financial planning "included" in your asset management fee?

I have previously written about 56 Holistic Planning Topics. If you look at this extensive list, it is likely that not all these topics apply to any one client or family situation.  But it is very likely that some of them do. I also posted separately that "To be effective, your fiduciary must have all the data and documents."  

But here's something I didn't say.  If your situation is just in the middle of complexity ... and you do provide the documents and data ... it's not readily possible to actually receive a fiduciary-level analysis of all that information at no charge. At some point early in your adult life, you might have engaged a builder or contractor to build you a very simple structure of some type (e.g. garage, shed, simple addition) and the builder / contractor "threw in" ("bundled") the plans / blueprints with the building job.  But if you were ever involved in buying even a middle-sized custom home, much less a larger commercial building of any type, almost certainly you used the services of an architect ... and paid her for the plans / blueprints.

Pricing might be an interesting challenge.  Maybe you paid the architect a flat fee.  Then, what about changes?  I was in the financial planning for a flat fee business and it might still be the most appropriate way to charge on occasion.  But when we look at the combination of family situation - children - grandchildren - trusts - sons / daughters-in-law - investments often in more than one spot or tax location - real estate - sources of income -- I have reluctantly concluded that charging an hourly financial planning fee frequently works best.  Otherwise, the client is overpaying ... or I'm undercharging.

This topic is a work in progress.  Completely fiduciary and completely ethical financial folks of many flavors may disagree and still be fiduciary and ethical.

But if your complexity is midlevel and you are "only" paying an "assets under management" (e.g. percentage AUM) fee ... and if you are actually receiving financial planning at a fiduciary level of thoroughness with no other fee, your AUM fee might be uncompetitively high.  But if you are on track to reach your goals ... or better yet, have already reached them, it might be worth it! 

Related Links