James Coney  

Conversation about cost needs to be revived

James Coney

James Coney

I have long believed that the great failure of the financial advice market is its refusal to talk about real cost.

In the pre-RDR world when fees were bundled into commission, financial advice was made to sound free. But all that led to was a world where consumers felt it had no value.

Despite attempts by some to persuade advisers to be more upfront about what they were really charging, a reluctance to confess just how much could be made from trail commission always got in the way.

Fast forward a decade and we are having the same conversations about costs all over again, and once again some advisers are trying to convince us that their advice is free.

Essentially, the argument goes, because you pay your fee from the sum invested, the advice bit beforehand costs nothing.

This is a very dangerous game and dramatically undermines the value of your profession because you are effectively saying it is worthless.

Incidentally, journalism has the same problem, in that for years newspapers gave away our stories for nothing on the internet.

It suddenly meant that any old blogger could pretend they were a journalist and people forgot that producing good quality news coverage actually costs a lot of money.

Advisers really need to start having a conversation about cost all over again.

Maybe it is time to start setting a gold standard by which to measure the services advisers offer.

As a starting point, and this is my personal view as a consumer, whole of market is best. I am sorry if that upsets restricted advisers, but if you are only selling a limited range of products from a provider then there is no way you are offering access to the very best at all times.

And I do not mean those who are restricted to the products they sell – specialising is a valuable skill – but the providers they offer.

This distinction is a problematic technicality for consumers. You have to think about perception, particularly if your restricted advice model comes with fees that are contingent on how much you flog.

This is where charging really matters. You can have an upfront charge, you can have an ongoing fee, have both if you want.

Charge a flat fee, charge a percentage. But whatever option you choose, think about how that looks to the consumer.

And this is where transparency comes in. I hear advisers argue all the time that it is just impossible for them to publish a sheet of charges on their website.

I am having none of it.

Not publishing fees makes it seem as if you have something to hide – it is all about perception.

You cannot unbundle these three issues – whole of market, charging structure and transparency – you have to look at them in the round to get a full sense of what your business model looks like.