Should Financial Planners Set Minimum Asset Requirements?

­­Should you set a minimum asset requirement when considering whether to take on a new client? Are some clients just too small to be bothered with?

It's a question that vexes more than a few certified financial planners, or CFPs, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Minimums are not uncommon in financial planning, whether it's $50,000, $500,000 or $1 million. After all, the livelihoods of many financial planners are still based in some substantial measure on a percentage of assets managed, so the size of a client's portfolio is certainly relevant.

For financial planners, a typical fee might hover in the 1 percent range of total assets, or less, for that matter, a number that does not typically include your home. A planner could then count on $10,000 in revenue from a client with a $1 million, or $5,000 from a $500,000 client.

Still, not everyone is comfortable laying out a minimum.

From a business perspective, some planners argue that setting a minimum effectively cuts off younger but promising clients whose portfolios are likely to swell as they move up the career ladder.

And some strongly object to the idea both on practical and philosophical grounds. Many planners often genuinely like working with people and helping them put their financial houses in order. Setting minimums and rejecting potential clients who need help just rubs some in the field of personal finance the wrong way.

"We've never had minimums, and I'm told that is a horrible business model. So be it," says Dennis Nolte, vice president and financial advisor at Seacoast National Bank in Florida and a CFP.

"We get paid well by enough folks to do the "pro bono"/not profitable clients/prospects advice. It feels good, and it's right," Nolte says. "Everyone deserves help."

Jon Ten Haagen, founder and principal of Ten Haagen Financial Group in Huntington, N.Y. and a CFP, is also critical of the practice.

Ten Haagen says he will work with a client of any size as long as "the person is really interested in getting ahead and starting a program to reach their goals," adding that "even the small people need support and guidance."

"Every time I hear of a broker with a minimum I chuckle," Ten Haagen says. "I think it comes from arrogance. Yes some of the 'big' brokers don't want to be bothered."

But there also can be solid business reasons for not wanting to reject clients based on the size of their wallet.

Some say rejecting up-and-coming young professionals and business people is shortsighted given their potential for high-earnings over the course of their careers and high net worth as well.

David Demming, president of Demming Financial Services Corp. in Aurora, Ohio and a CFP, notes his firm has opted not to set any minimum asset requirements for that very reason, despite managing $430 million, with another $300 million under advisement.

"Why? We don't want to close the door to second, third and now fourth generation client children," Demming says.

Mike Giefer, a wealthcare advisor and CFP at The Johnston Group in Minneapolis, says technology is enabling planners to service younger and smaller clients with less time-consuming paperwork upfront.

His firm, which traditionally required $1 million in assets, has opened up an additional service platform called "Foundations" focused on young professionals in their 20s and 30s.

Firms that pass over or screen out such rising prospects may find their assets are already being managed by a more far-sighted competitor when they are older and better established financially, he warns.

"Minimum asset requirements will never completely disappear, but I think a lot of firms and advisors would be smart to re-examine their current approach to the issue," Giefer says. "Technology is completely changing the landscape of the business."

Yet other advisors still swear by minimum asset requirements, arguing they provide a basic sorting mechanism that can be valuable as a practice grows and expands.

Michael Kelly, a CFP at Carver Financial Services outside Cleveland, says it is common for firms in his area to require a $500,000 minimum.

Setting a minimum can actually give a firm flexibility when deciding whether or not to take on a client.

"Setting a minimum allows the advisor to reject a client without it being their fault because it's the firm's policy, not theirs," Kelly says. "But if the advisor really wants to work with the client they can just waive the minimum and make the client feel really special and taken care of."

Scott Bishop, an executive vice president for financial planning and a partner at STA Wealth Management in Houston, says after more than two decades in the field, setting a $1 million minimum serves a practical purpose for his practice.

Roughly 100 clients is typically the limit any one financial planner can reasonably handle, says Bishop, a CFP.

Bishop refers new clients that fall below that $1 million mark to other colleagues with more capacity or lower minimums. He also will refer current clients whose assets fall below that threshold.

"I think all financial advisors need to set parameters on how many clients they are able to handle," Bishop says.

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