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Advisors shifting to comprehensive planning, fees

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Financial advisors are making more money, seeking more education, and providing more holistic advice to clients as compared to a year ago, according to the College for Financial Planning’s 2009 “Survey of Trends in Financial Planning” released Monday.

Research indicates a shift to greater customer service. Advisors are charging fees rather than commissions, creating more comprehensive plans, and emphasizing client interaction.

“As people watch their retirement savings or child’s college fund shrink, they are increasingly asking advisors for solutions to help live their lives, rather than simply grow their stock investments,” said Bing Waldert, Director of Cerulli Associates. “That requires a more comprehensive approach with a greater emphasis on customer service and better training.”

Key findings include:

  • Salaries are rebounding after a soft 2008. Average earnings rose to $215,345, up from $195,394 in 2008. Although average earnings were reported at $232,995 in 2006 and $283,079 in 2007, the 2009 findings are remarkable given market conditions in 2008 and early 2009.
  • Advisors value education more than ever. Eleven percent more advisors listed education as a key driver of success than the year before (49 percent in 2009, up from 38 percent in 2008), the biggest increase of any category. Interpersonal skills and client referrals topped the list.
  • There is a shift toward fees and away from commissions. More than half of respondents receive most of their compensation from fees. One-fourth (26 percent) are fee-only, and nearly one third (30 percent) receive at least half their revenue from fees.
  • Advisor allocations to money markets and cash have nearly doubled over past usage. However, the greatest number of advisors plan to increase their usage of equity mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in coming months, mapping a road to recovery for asset managers and other product providers.
  • Clients are demanding more comprehensive plans that tailor a broad set of strategies to meet their overall financial goals. More than one third (36 percent) of advisors’ clients are receiving comprehensive written plans. Another 46 percent receive modular plans, both written and unwritten.