How Expensive is a Financial Advisor?

June 26, 2023
for People

Understanding what you’re going to pay when you decide to work with a financial advisor is crucial! Unfortunately, it gets complicated with all the different fee structures out there, which leads to you often feeling overwhelmed. To help you feel less overwhelmed and more confident, here are clear explanations of the most common fees that financial advisors pay.

Comparing Fee-only and Fee-based Advisors: Potential Conflicts of Interest

Fee-only Advisors

Fee-only advisors are known for having fewer conflicts of interest since they do not receive commissions from selling financial products. Their fees are directly tied to the services they provide, which aligns their interests with those of their clients. This structure promotes unbiased advice and transparency.

Fee-based Advisors

On the other hand, fee-based advisors may have potential conflicts of interest due to receiving both fees and commissions. The commission aspect can create incentives for them to recommend specific financial products or investments that might not be in the client's best interest. Clients should be aware of these potential conflicts and ask their advisors about any commissions they receive when recommending certain products or investments.

Commission-based Fees

How Commission-based Fees Work

Commission-based fees are earned by financial advisors when they sell specific financial products or services to their clients. These commissions can be a percentage of the product's value, a flat fee per transaction, or a combination of both. This type of fee structure incentivizes advisors to recommend products that generate higher commissions for themselves, rather than focusing solely on what may be best for their clients.

Impact on Financial Advice

The commission-based fee model can create potential conflicts of interest between the advisor and their clients. Since an advisor's earnings are directly tied to the sale of specific financial products, they may be more inclined to recommend those that yield higher commissions, even if they're not the most suitable option for the client. This could lead to biased advice and suboptimal investment decisions.

To mitigate these concerns, clients should ask advisors about any commission structures they have in place, request full disclosure on all fees associated with recommended products, and consider seeking second opinions from other professionals before making significant financial decisions.

Comparing Fees Among Different Financial Advisors

When comparing fees among different financial advisors, it's essential to consider various factors to ensure you make an informed decision. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Identify the Fee Structure

Determine whether the advisor is fee-only, fee-based, or commission-based. Understanding the differences between these structures will help you identify potential conflicts of interest and determine how transparent and unbiased their advice may be.

2. Compare AUM Percentage Rates

If the advisors charge a percentage of assets under management (AUM), compare their rates across different asset tiers. Keep in mind that lower AUM rates may not necessarily translate to lower costs if there are additional fees involved.

3. Evaluate Flat Fees and Hourly Rates

For fee-only advisors who charge flat fees or hourly rates, consider the scope of services provided for each pricing model. Determine whether one-time financial planning services or ongoing investment management align better with your needs and budget.

4. Assess Commissions and Additional Costs

Review any commissions or additional costs associated with recommended products and services for fee-based and commission-based advisors. Request full disclosure on all fees before making a decision.

5. Consider Value for Money

Evaluate each advisor's expertise, experience, certifications, and reputation in conjunction with their fees to determine overall value for money. Remember that higher fees do not always guarantee better service or results.

By examining these factors carefully, you'll be better equipped to compare fees among different financial advisors and choose one that best aligns with your financial goals and preferences.

Typical Fees and Costs

Fee-only Advisor

Fee-only advisors charge an annual, hourly, or flat fee for their services. This could be a fixed dollar amount or a percentage fee.

Fee-based Advisor

Advisors who are fee-based may charge clients a fee, such as percentage of AUM, and commissions.

Per-plan Fee

Clients who want to pay for specific services or plans will be able to pay a pre-determined amount. The amount is sometimes negotiable and dependent on the complexity of the financial plan.

Percentage of Assets Under Management (AUM)

In this fee structure, the amount you pay is based on two things: 1, the percentage fee that you and your advisor agree on and 2, the amount of investable assets you may have. It’s a common misconception that the percentage fee is always 1%! However, nearly every advisor tiers their fee structure based on the amount of investable assets a client has - the more assets a client has, the lower the fee they pay. Additionally, AUM stands for assets under management. Ex: a client with $50,000 in investable assets works with an advisor who charges 1% of AUM. To calculate the fee, we multiple 1% by $50,000. The fee the client pays each year would be $500.

Fiduciary Duty and Its Impact on Fee Structures

What is Fiduciary Duty?

Fiduciary duty refers to the legal obligation of financial advisors to act in their clients' best interests, putting their clients' needs ahead of their own. This responsibility requires advisors to provide unbiased advice, disclose any potential conflicts of interest, and ensure that recommended investment strategies are suitable for their clients' financial goals and risk tolerance.

Fee-only Advisors and Fiduciary Duty

Fee-only advisors are more likely to uphold fiduciary duty due to their transparent fee structure. Since they do not receive commissions from selling financial products or services, there are fewer conflicts of interest that could compromise the quality of advice provided. As a result, fee-only advisors tend to prioritize their clients’ best interests when making recommendations.

Fee-based and Commission-based Advisors and Fiduciary Duty

In contrast, fee-based and commission-based advisors may face greater challenges in adhering to fiduciary duty. The potential for earning commissions can create incentives for these advisors to recommend specific products or investments based on their own financial gain rather than what is best for the client. To maintain fiduciary duty, these advisors must fully disclose any commissions or potential conflicts of interest when providing advice.

Importance of Working with a Fiduciary Advisor

Choosing a financial advisor who upholds fiduciary duty is crucial for ensuring that you receive objective advice tailored to your unique financial needs. When comparing different fee structures among advisors, consider whether the advisor acts as a fiduciary and how this may impact the quality of guidance they provide. By working with a fiduciary advisor, you can have peace of mind knowing that your best interests are being prioritized throughout the decision-making process.


In conclusion, understanding the fees associated with working with a financial advisor is crucial for making informed decisions. By comparing fee structures, such as fee-only, fee-based, and commission-based, you can identify potential conflicts of interest and determine the transparency and objectivity of the advice you receive. It is important to consider fiduciary duty and choose an advisor who acts in your best interest. By evaluating fees, services, and value for money, you can select a financial advisor who aligns with your goals and provides the guidance you need for a secure financial future.

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