Financial planners earn their living talking about money. So maybe it's not so surprising that when it comes to talking about fees with new clients, many planners say they prefer to be upfront, direct, and transparent about what they charge.
Most of the more than two dozen certified financial planners, or CFPs, who responded to a query for this article about the best time to broach fees with a new prospect came down on the side of sooner rather than later.
Many of them are fee-only advisors, meaning that they aren't earning commissions to sell various financial products, with their pay, or fees, coming directly from the client.
In fact, some planners say the direct approach may even be a selling point for some clients disillusioned over previous relationships with brokers or other financial services sales people who weren't upfront on the commissions they were earning by selling certain funds or insurance products.
However, what exactly being upfront means depends on who you talk to.
While planners say they inform clients of what they can expect to pay before they even meet, others wait until the end of the first meeting or even the second.
"The fee conversation should not be something to avoid," says Andrea Blackwelder, founder and owner of Wisdom Wealth Strategies in Denver. "We should embrace transparency and ensure that our clients understand how financial advisors and investment advisors are compensated."
Blackwelder says it is no different than any other service or product. Clients just want to know what the fees are so they can determine for themselves whether "the cost is in line with the value the receive.'
Getting fee talk out of the way
For some planners, it's almost never too early to broach the subject of fees.
Steven J. Stanganelli, a CFP at Clear View Wealth Advisors in Amesbury Mass., posts his fees right on his website, along with samples of reports he has done for clients.
"During an initial phone call with a client I'll give them a quote as well," Stanganelli says. "I prefer that the client opt-in to call me and know what the costs are so that neither of us waste our time."
Kristin Sullivan, a CFP at Sullivan Financial Planning in Denver, charges for her first appointment. So Sullivan brings up fees in the first phone call.
"Clients seem relieved to know what they are getting into right up front and it helps me weed out the tire-kickers and only meet with people who are serious about working with a planner," Sullivan says.
For Mark Brinser, a certified financial planner at Stewardship Advisors in Mount Joy, Penn., the right time to talk about fees is in the first 10-15 minutes of an introductory meeting with a new prospect.
This signals the firm's belief in transparency while also taking off the table a potential distraction, he contends.
"We do not have to worry about someone being distracted during the meeting by the voice inside their head saying, 'this sounds great, but what is it going to cost me,'" Brinser says.
Talk first, then fees
Still, while being upfront is important, most planners would rather wait until the first meeting with a new client before getting into fees.
Michael Kelley, a CFP with Kelley Financial Planning in Cleveland, gives the client the chance to bring up the fee issue during the first meeting. If it hasn't come up and the meeting is near its end, Kelley will bring it up himself in the final five or ten minutes.
"It's the main focus for some prospects and others could care less," Kelley says. "I like to know which one they are by letting them bring it up."
Charles Adi, a certified financial planner at Blueprint 360, notes that "in theory" presenting a prospect with fee information in advance sounds great.
But in practice, Adi finds its helpful to first get a better understanding of the new client, their financial situation, and the services and help they might need.
Clients have the tendency to underestimate their needs or to not even know what exactly they are looking for, he notes.
"This conversation allows us both to clarify the ask, communicate expectations, and settle on a fee and service package that makes sense," Adi says.
Ruth Delaney, a certified financial planner with Concierge Financial Organization in Tampa, pre-qualifies prospects during an initial 15-minute phone call. But the fee talk typically comes during a 45 to 60 minute "discovery" meeting.
"At that meeting, if we both agree to work together I present them with my fee schedule," Delaney says.
Honesty about fees appreciated
Still, whether the fee talk is over an initial phone call or at the end of the first meeting, financial planners say most new clients appreciate the honesty.
It's not uncommon to meet with a new client who had previously worked with a broker or another financial services sales person who never explained they were getting paid by pushing certain funds or products, planners say.
Jonathan Kelley, a vice president, partner, and CFP at Hinds Financial Group, in Lakewood, Col., says he recently met with a new client who had no idea how his old advisor got paid.
"It was a variable annuity that has so many layers I could only take an educated guess and nobody outside our industry would know," Kelley says. "It does not inspire trust in our industry."