Holly Wolf, a director of engagement at SOLO Laboratories, in Kutztown Pa., is one financial consumer who's both picky and prudent about working with a professional investment specialist.
"As an investment client, I expect a higher level of service advisor than I could get from a robo-advisor or a do-it-yourself service," Wolf says. "Yes, I am paying for the expanded service, so I expect more. I consider it a concierge service."
Wolf and her husband are prototypical financial advisor clients. They've been clients for 25 years, but they do see the advantages of going the robo route, or shopping around for lower-fee advisory options. "If I'm willing to do more work, I wouldn't pay our advisor to do it for me," she says. "Plus, it's getting harder to justify the fees when returns continue to be low. That's why we have and will continue to consider taking some of our investments and putting it with a robo-advisor, just to save the fees."
Clients like Wolf are a big reason financial advisors, more and more, are offering enhanced customer service options - and not charging clients for them.
Data from the most recent Schwab Independent Advisor Outlook Study shows that "two in three financial advisors expect more competition for securing assets in this timeframe and, likewise, believe the need to differentiate their firms from competition is greater than ever."
To stand out from the crowd, more advisors are offering free services to clients and working longer hours without charging clients for burning the midnight oil.
"44% of advisors are providing more services to clients without charging for them and two-fifths have been putting more time into each without an increase in fees," the study notes.
The notion of working harder, but getting paid less, seems to be yet another "new normal" in financial advisory circles.
"Additional services offered by RIAs is a trend that is here to stay in the industry," says David Pappalardo, head of advisor client solutions at Rogerscasey, near Boston. Pappalardo says that clients with significant assets and complex financial needs "appeal" to many elite firms that have sophisticated staff and holistic planning capabilities. "Also, younger and smaller clients like the robo-advisor and the low-cost approach, which have historically been a reliable source of new clients for RIAs," he says.
Pappalardo says that clients with significant assets and complex financial needs "appeal" to many elite firms that have sophisticated staff and holistic planning capabilities. "Also, younger and smaller clients like the robo-advisor and the low-cost approach, which have historically been a reliable source of new clients for RIAs," he says.
"These trends have RIAs rightly concerned about client retention as their largest and smallest clients are at greater risk than ever," Pappalardo adds. "In response to these threats, RIAs are working harder and providing more client service to retain and strengthen relationships."
Others say the investment management industry is simply catching up to what the good advisors have been doing all along.
"In the past, advisors may have been able to just provide investment ideas, allocation and rebalancing and, due to the lack of information and technology available to the client, this alone may have seemed worth the advisor's fee," notes Lou Cannataro, partner at Cannataro Park Avenue Financial in New York. "Those advisors that relied on this model watched their added value be minimized and commoditized by technology."
Consequently, many advisors are being forced to move from just being an "asset gatherer" to a true wealth manager, which does take a lot more work and energy, says Cannataro. "This shift is causing many to rebuild their business model, develop stronger teams and learn the other aspects of wealth management which does take time, energy and money," he says. "They then have the harder job of trying to "re-sell" themselves to their existing clientele, trying to justify their fee versus simply verifying what their fee has been providing all along."
Yet extra services that don't include the traditional tenet of the financial advisory industry - intelligent, diligent advice - won't mean much to most clients, other advisors say.
"Perhaps for new advisors, adding extra client services might seem to be the way to gain new business and cement existing ones," says Sylvia Szabo, a financial advisor at Wedbush Securities, in Newport Beach, Calif. "However, as an advisor for over 20 years, the most valued service I can offer my clients is peace of mind."
Szabo says that as daily geopolitical events drastically alter the course of the markets, it is imperative for a great advisor-client relationship to be proactive. "By anticipating trends, being current on international events, such as foreign elections, and national breaking news, I pick up the phone and connect with my clients," she explains. "My approach of dynamic interaction reassures them that I am aware, that I have their best interest at heart and that I am knowledgeable about facts that could impact their investments."
Szabo says that extra service without intelligent care is not enough - and maybe even a waste of time. "I use my extra time to get educated, to do research and to reach out and care about what really matters to my clients," she says. "Communication with heart is the key."