Going Fee-Only? Strategies for Handling Legacy Commission Accounts

Brian Lampron, AIF®, is vice president, RIA services. An employee of the firm since 2005, Brian leads the RIA Services department, which provides consulting services, guidance, and support in the areas of practice transition, compliance, and operations to Commonwealth’s fee-only advisors. He has gained extensive knowledge of advisory platforms, pricing models, the competitive landscape, and how industry trends are affecting both Commonwealth and our advisors. Brian received his BS in accounting from Bentley University.
Brian Lampron, AIF

05.26.21 in The Fee-Only Advisor

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes (602 words)

Keywords: forward-thinking, client-centric, truly independent, flexible, 
control, infrastructure, fiduciary

Over the past several years, the fee-based advisory model has slowly started to dominate the industry. Many advisors adopt a hybrid approach—and while they may no longer be selling commission-based products, they may still have reliable trail revenue.

Fee-based is not fee-only, though. And if you decide you’re ready to make that leap to becoming a true fiduciary, going fee-only will mean dropping your FINRA registration and walking away from your legacy commission accounts and the FINRA trail revenue that comes with them. As a fee-only advisor, your revenue will be all advisory business, with you charging AUM fees for asset management and fees for financial planning.

Figuring out what to do with your legacy commission accounts takes some thought—and as a fiduciary, you need to pursue options that are in the best interest of your clients. Here are a few possibilities to keep in mind.

Prune Clients Who Are Less Ideal

As you explore going fee-only, you may realize you have clients who are not profitable or whom you haven’t engaged with in some time. This is a great opportunity to reassess these relationships. Breaking up with unprofitable relationships may help you trim away some legacy commission accounts and, at the same time, free you to focus on serving your profitable clients.

It’s natural to have some reservations about this process. You may feel a sense of obligation to retain long-standing clients—especially if you started working with them early in your career. Once you’ve decided to prune, though, before letting those clients know, do some networking to identify other advisors in your community—possibly from your local bank, retail investment houses, or other firms—who may be willing to take them on. Then you can let these clients know that you have changed the focus of your business, and consequently, you need to part ways.

Sell a Portion to Another Advisor

There may be an advisor willing to purchase a portion of your legacy commission accounts, but this presents some challenges. If, after going fee-only, you’re looking to maintain relationships with clients who are part of your advisory households, you can separate these to keep the relationships intact. If you do choose to sell these non-advisory accounts as well, it can be awkward for the client when you introduce a second advisor. Think about the long-term ramifications—you’ll want to make sure the buying firm or advisor shares your client-service philosophy and that they’re not going to try to solicit any remaining part of the client relationship that you are still managing.

Convert to Another Type of Account

If some of these accounts are part of larger advisory households, it may not make sense to weed out clients or sell accounts. In these cases, converting direct mutual fund accounts to a fee-based account or moving a retail variable annuity to a fee-only variable annuity is an avenue that might make sense. Consider whether there’s a more economical solution for the client with more investment flexibility, as well as the client’s specific needs and objectives. Remember, you need to be able to articulate the benefits of moving to the advisory side to your clients—and any type of conversion must be in the client’s best interest.

Say Goodbye to Revenue, Not Relationships

Relationships are at the heart of this business, and going fee-only doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice them. While you may need to make tough decisions about some commission-based relationships that have run their course, there are solutions for handling legacy commissionable accounts that will allow you to deepen the connections you have with most clients over the long term in your fee-only business.

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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