Some older investors would rather pay for personalized advice than get it as a complementary service associated with the the sale of an investment product, according to a new study Hearts & Wallets, a retirement market research provider.

The study, entitled "Addressing the Elephant in Financial Services: Insights into How Older Investors Really Want to Receive, and Pay for, Investment and Personal Financial Advice," reports that a growing disconnect between what Americans investors desire from financial and investment advice and what they're currently getting.

According to the report, investors feel they're being shortchanged on advice and guidance on personal finance questions, such as retirement and income planning, when these services are packaged as a free service-often delivered as a prelude to being sold a product where the advisor could earn a commission. It calls into question the value of that advice, and makes investors wonder what exactly they're paying for.

"Today, the industry has a very confusing fee structure," said Chris Brown, principal for Hearts and Wallets. "Investors want to know what they're paying for. If someone offered you free advice, how much trust would you have in that advice? Clients don't understand why they're being charged what they're charged and therefore they tend to mistrust; they tend to have suspicions and think the advisor's motives might be suspicious-that they're pushing the service that pays them the most money," he added.

Hearts & Wallets principal Laura Varas said investors indicated they like the idea of separating investment and personal finance advice. "They also want to have more choice in terms of a la carte service and flexible fees," Varas said.

That desire, Varas said, is highest among mass affluent investors who may not have enough assets to qualify for more personalized service, but would like the option to pay for more consistent, higher-touch support. She added investors were also receptive to the advisor accepting fiduciary status to legally ensure the advisor places client interests above advisor interests.

"They recognized that such a major improvement would require providers to reorganize their services and infrastructure, possibly carrying additional fees," Varas said.

Conducted in April, the survey's nine focus groups included "pre-retirees," Americans who identify themselves as within five years of retirement and the household historical primary breadwinner stopping full-time work; late career investors, Americans ages 50 to 65 who are not yet retired and the household primary breadwinner is not considering retirement within the next five years; and post-retirees, individuals who are currently retired. Investors might be signaling a willingness to pay for advice, but a key question is how much are they willing to pay.

- By Jim McConville