On January 1, all licensed financial advisors in the U.K. were required to adopt a fee-for-service model. And in July, the same will go for advisors in Australia. That means selling a product and getting a commission on the sale is verboten. Aite Group calls it the most significant change taking place in the global financial advice industry this year, as highlighted in a recent report from the Boston-based research firm entitled Top 10 Trends in Wealth Management, 2013.
Aite says commissions and inducements from product providers will no longer be allowed in those two countries. In addition, advisors can charge clients an ongoing fee only if they provide an ongoing service, and advisors must disclose to clients what exactly they’re paying for. On top of that, advisors have to abide by a fiduciary standard. “Before, retail investors were just paying for a product,” Aite senior analyst Sophie Schmitt said in an interview. “Now they’re paying separate fees for products and advice.”
She noted that some product providers in the U.K., such as Barclays and HSBC, have bolstered their online channels to sell products directly to consumers. “Now that there’s this transparency, we might see some investors trying to avoid some fees by going directly to an online platform,” said Schmitt, who added that U.K. consumers aren’t as geared toward making online financial transactions as U.S. consumers, and that most financial products in the U.K. are bought through advisors.
Aite says those advisors who’ve focused on the mass-affluent market and mainly relied on product commissions must step up efforts to provide more value-added services, such as financial planning or investment management. They’ll also have to invest in business process management or service-level management tools to help create a more service-based model and to create an audit trail that shows they’re following fiduciary practices.
Schmitt said she doesn’t expect the U.S. to go commission-free anytime soon, if at all. “The SEC says it wants to make sure that any uniform fiduciary model it passes will accommodate all business models. They don’t want to eliminate a particular model.”