Pressured by declining fees, increasing competition and more stringent regulations, advisors are nonetheless optimistic, according to San Francisco-based Schwab Advisor Services.

In the 21st Schwab Independent Advisor Outlook Study, advisors say they are feeling pressured to differentiate themselves as other channels of the industry adopt policies and practices to look and act in similar manners, said Bernie Clark, executive vice president and head of Schwab Advisor Services.

“Advisors have remained optimistic, even in the darkest periods of time, but they’ve often had to change their tactics,” Clark said during a Tuesday conference call.

As the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule becomes applicable, independent advisors will have to consider ways to differentiate themselves, Schwab said. Most, 76 percent, believe that they will be able to use technology to stay ahead of their competition.

Two-fifths of the survey’s respondents say the independent model will differentiate itself from other channels by offering clients a broader range of services, like tax, philanthropic and health-care planning.

“We think independent advisors have an advantage. Those who can be more creative in delving into the personal side of client relationships and help people through life coaching and areas like that are going to be greately rewarded by clients,” said Clark.

Faced with competition and fee pressure, advisors say that they’re doing more for less. According to the study, 44 percent of advisors have already begun providing more services to their clients without charging for them, and 40 percent of advisors have started spending more time on each client without increasing fees.

“Advisors are going to do more, or serve more assets, with similar numbers of resources,” said Clark. “It is a form of fee pressure. We’ve been calling for fee pressure for quite some time, but instead of a reduction, we’ve seen more services for the same fee.”

In order to continue to compete for clients, advisors will have to scale up their practices, said Clark, so they can distribute the cost of additional services.

Twenty percent of survey respondents believe that they will differentiate their firms by accentuating their commitment to more stringent standards for fiduciary advice.

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