What should advice cost? That was an excellent question from the audience during the first two of our recent getting in shape series. Perhaps this seemingly simple question surprised our panel. The answer to the question is not easy. It was a kind of sub-plot in the day's event: the question of the cost of advice is part of the disclosure story, part of the story about the future of advice, part of the story about the value of advisers solidly backed up by the research shared on the day. When asked what advice should cost the panel made a good beginning - in both Wellington and Auckland the first answer was "it should not be free". This echoed John Botica's earlier comment during the first panel in Wellington where, talking about disclosure, he asked that any advisers taking commission should not refer to their advice as free. Of course advice isn't free. Often something that is not paid for is not valued. Advice is paid for (whether by fee or commission) and it is valuable.
The question came up in the context of a discussion about how to make advice more accessible. For people to value advice they must first know it is available, believe it is worth getting - but these are just pre-conditions. Often we know something would be good for us, but don't do it.
Many people struggle with making the time to meet with an adviser - not just because of the time for the meeting, but they fear the time the work around the meeting will take. A good portion of the population are certain that their finances are a mess, and if not, then the musty file of papers definitely is a mess. So they fear judgment. Many people struggle with making room for the cost of advice. If they believe that it will require payment at the time and their budget is already stretched they will be reluctant to make an appointment. Commission has a valuable financing role to play here - but it is not the only mechanism, of course, that can make access to advice easier.
So although advice should not be free, we need to make it easy to start the process. Which means the initial steps should be free - and easy to do.
Most advisers offer initial discussions at no charge. More can be done to make brief trials of the value of advice accessible. Social media helps, Zoom and MS Teams helps, but nothing quite beats a meeting - and the ability to slip into a 20 minute session on KiwiSaver at lunch or hear ten top tips on managing your home loan at the local mall are probably under-utilised strategies. Now add some tools in the client's first language (which will not be English in about a third of cases in Auckland) and spoken by someone who at least knows your culture a bit... these are access strategies. They reduce the psychological costs (fear of rejection, fear of shame, fear of being exposed as not having 'enough money to qualify for advice').