I often get asked lots of questions from other advisors about my flat fee. The questions are the ones you would expect – why this model; how do people react to one simple fee; does it help with marketing; aren’t you leaving money on the table and more. I will not bore you with my answers to those questions, however, there is one question no advisor ever asks me, yet I always volunteer. And that is what type of client do I accept while charging everyone the same fee.
So, the big benefit I did not think of when launching my flat-fee firm is how I get to be selective with clients I accept. I’m not sure the best and kindest way to explain this, but here goes – the amount of money you have saved or your income level is not the driving factor for me. For advisors who charge a percentage based on your asset level (AUM), they are definitely interested in how much you have saved. Also, the more you make, the better the odds are you will be able to invest or maybe buy some high-commission products. For me, everyone pays me the same $4,800 a year. Instead of focusing on asset level, I get to focus on something more important to me – do I like the client as a person.
I turn away a large percentage of the people who inquire about working with me. Last time I looked I turn away nearly 50% of the people who reach out to me. Yes, I am a nerd and I track this data. The reasons vary, however, below are some things I look for before accepting a client.
- Are they a referral from a client or maybe a center of influence, such as an attorney or CPA? I have never, nor will I ever, ask a client for a referral. I don’t ask attorneys or CPAs either, however, I do let them know I exist.
- If not a referral, have they spent some time on my website reading about my philosophy, approach and service model? If someone is coming to me only because they like my $4,800 annual fee instead of the $20,000 or $30,000 they are spending now, well, I respect frugal but not cheap.
- Do they want comprehensive financial planning services or just looking for someone to handle their investments? I do not accept clients who just want the latter. To me, simply managing assets doesn’t allow me to really know a client, which is where I prove my value as a CFP®.
- When they reach out to me, are they polite? Yes, manners do matter. When I get emails from people with a laundry list of questions and they cannot even finish it with a “thanks,” that’s a non-starter for me.
- Never ask me to do anything shady. An example was how to reduce a client’s income so he could reduce his alimony to practically nothing, even though he was going to make in the mid-6 figures of income. There are plenty of advisors out there who will happily work with this person, but not me.
- If I am ever meeting with a couple and one is rude or demeaning to the other, they won’t be clients.
When I set up my firm I established certain goals. They included how much I want to make and how much I want to work. Life is stressful enough that I will never again take on a client who I hope doesn’t call me. For me, if I am not comfortable giving you my cell number (which all my clients have), then you don’t have to worry about us working together.