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Why Net Worth Pricing Might Be the Future of Wealth Management

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Choosing to work with a financial planner on a fee-only basis has traditionally meant calculating client fees based on a percentage of assets under management, or AUM. The idea behind fee-only is that what a financial planner recommends to a client is not directly tied to what he earns.

Is there another way to engage with a fee-only financial planner? Yes, there is. A new financial planning philosophy aims to further incentivize growth by aligning client interests more tightly with those of their advisor. Innovative software solutions are making it easier than ever for a new fee structure – net worth pricing – to work for investors.

The net worth concept is really quite simple: The fee paid to a financial planner is based on total net worth, not just a client’s investment accounts. What this means is a financial planner has a great incentive to drive up your net worth; he’ll get paid to make you wealthier rather and to take a more holistic look at your financial plan — which is in stark contrast to the traditional financial planner-client relationship.

To make net worth pricing work, a financial planner needs to be involved in every aspect of clients’ financial lives. It’s important that he’s able to see the broad view of his clients’ finances. He’ll want to weigh in on what kind of home loan they should get, their business exit strategies, their charitable intent, what they should do with their 401(k)s if they leave their jobs, if they should lease or buy a new car and more. Basically, he becomes a personal CFO to his client — a financial quarterback — someone who’s working as hard as they are to achieve their goals.

This holistic approach is not rocket science, but financial planners never had the technology available to do it economically before. FinTech is booming, and managing the whole scope of a client’s expansive and often complex financial life in one program is now possible. Newer software has made it efficient for clients who choose this management style to be sent a weekly net worth statement via a personal digital dashboard. As for fees, the percentage is lower than it is for other fee-only clients, but it’s calculated on total net worth instead of the assets currently under management, so it’s really a win-win situation for the advisor and the client.

Net worth pricing could be compared to paying a lawyer on contingency rather than on an hourly basis. Under a contingency agreement, the lawyer is only paid when the job is done and is thus incentivized to meet a common objective. This better aligns most client’s interests with those of their lawyer. Net worth pricing similarly improves the alignment of the certified financial planner professional with his client’s desired outcome over the AUM arrangement. The CFP paid by net worth is incentivized to grow the client’s total assets rather than just those that directly affect their own bottom line.

Another way to think of this arrangement is to imagine the CFO of a business. He isn’t paid just to manage the marketable securities the company owns. In fact, he’s paid to help the president of the firm manage debt, raise money, reduce legal and other risks, determine appropriate salaries and bonuses, and generally strategize all things financial. All those activities have one purpose: to drive up the value of the stock (if it’s a public company). For individuals, driving up net worth is the goal, thus net worth pricing makes a great deal of sense.

In the wealth management world, there are some things beyond a financial planner’s control; for instance, the markets will do what they’re going to do. But financial planners can use a variety of electronic tools to help clients better plan and envision their financial futures. By employing net worth pricing combined with FinTech, financial planners can focus on the things they can control to help build client wealth, such as estate plans, use of debt, insurance and human capital. It’s a concept whose time has come, something that’s a real game-changer.