Fee-Only Financial Advisor

We are a fee-only financial advisor in Houston, providing objective financial advisory services for over 35 years

Financial Synergies Wealth Advisors is a fee-only financial advisor in Houston, Texas.

We invite you to explore our website to learn more about our firm. Each page below provides detailed information and further insight into Financial Synergies Wealth Advisors.

Our Firm

Provides an overview of Financial Synergies Wealth Advisors and explains what sets us apart.

Our Team

Introduces you to our team members, including financial advisors, client service, and investment professionals.

Client Experience

Gives you insight into our process, and how we strive to provide excellent client service each step of the way.

FAQs

A list of frequently asked questions that may assist in your research of our firm.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding around the different types of financial advisors and how their fees are structured, especially when it comes to defining a fee-only financial advisor. You’d think it would be straightforward, but it’s not. Unfortunately, our industry has done a great job of confusing and frustrating people who are simply looking for a qualified advisor to help them with their finances and investments.

We wrote this article to answer the question, “What is a Fee-Only Financial Advisor?” 

Why? Because we are fee-only financial advisors that are only paid by our clients. We receive no sales commissions or compensation of any kind from outside companies. We are not here to sell products. Our interests are aligned with our clients. Period. We believe this is the only way to do business with complete transparency. 

And if things weren’t already confusing enough, you even have some financial advisors claiming to charge no fees at all. Now, any thinking person knows that can’t be true, because no one works for free. But it’s incredible how many people fall into the trap of believing their advisor is not charging them for advisory services.

So, let’s start with the basics by breaking down fee and compensation structures.

Table of Contents

3 Types of Financial Advisor Fee Structures

Fee-Only Financial Advisor

A fee-only advisor charges no commissions as part of their advisory or wealth management services. They are not compensated in any way by an outside company or product provider. This type of financial advisor’s fee structure comes in three varieties – flat fee, hourly, and percentage.

Fee-only financial advisors may charge flat fees ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000; they may charge hourly fees ranging from $100 to $500, or they may charge a percentage fee, typically around 1% of the value of the client’s assets under management.

With a flat fee approach, the financial advisor may create a financial or investment plan for you, but then leaves it to you to manage from that point on.

Sound good?

Well, only if you’re the type of person who wants to steer the ship, pay attention to investment and market trends, buy, sell, and trade, and do all the other investment management tasks yourself, in which case you don’t care that much about having an ongoing relationship with a financial advisor. The investment management aspect is hard work. And the stakes are high. But if that’s you, then this flat fee approach can be appealing.

And then there is the financial plan you must now implement on your own. The flat fee buys you a “moment-in-time” financial plan.

Why do we call it that?

Because all financial plans become obsolete and eventually fail. Just like when you drive a new car off the lot, your plan begins losing relevance and value the moment you take it from the advisor’s hands.

Think about it:

The conditions of your life in which that plan was created do not remain constant. Without the financial advisor’s expertise and ongoing services to help you keep your financial plan updated and accurate for your ever-changing life, its usefulness and effectiveness diminish over time.

So, what about hourly fees?

Hourly financial advisors operate more on a pay-as-you-go structure. With this approach, how much a financial advisor charges increases with the complexity of your personal finances and investments, so the hourly charges can get quite expensive.

One of the issues with this approach can be the lack of transparency and transactional nature of the business relationship. The advisor is responsible for tracking how much time they’re spending on your finances, and then invoicing you. How do you know what they’re spending their time on?

And you may be hesitant to contact them knowing that anytime you speak you are on the clock and being charged. It can make for an awkward relationship. It’s kind of like speaking with an attorney. And let’s be honest, does anyone really enjoy speaking with an attorney? 😉

What about percentage-based financial advisor fees?

The percentage fee advisor charges an ongoing fee (typically around 1% of assets under management), and this type of advisor works with your finances and investments continuously.

You can see the differences right away.

They charge a fee based on a percentage of your assets under their management. Many times, the percentage fee tiers down as the portfolio size increases.

In many ways this type of advisory fee structure helps to align the advisor’s interests with yours. If your portfolio increases in value, the advisor gets paid more. If your portfolio decreases in value, the advisor gets paid less.

Many fiduciary advisors structure their fees as a percentage of assets under management. We have taken the fiduciary oath to always put our clients’ interests ahead of our own. And this percentage fee structure most closely aligns with the fiduciary standard, in our opinion.

And what matters even more is what kind of advisory and wealth management services you get for that fee, not just how a financial advisor structures their compensation. More on that in a bit…

Fee-Based Financial Advisor

How much a financial advisor charges in a fee-based scenario differs from a fee-only system in that a fee-based advisor may earn extra fees and commissions when buying and selling certain investment products on your behalf.

Here’s the main point:

The fee they charge you (percentage, flat, or hourly) is just the starting point. The fees or commissions they may earn from selling products get added on top of that.

Therefore, fee-based financial advisors may charge a slightly lower percentage than fee-only financial advisors. If you encounter this, remember that fee-based financial advisors can afford to lower the percentage fee because they make more than enough on commissions to make up the difference.

It’s important to understand that those commissions they earn will come right out of your investment portfolio’s bottom line. This is by either charging a higher internal expense on the investment product or simply taking a commission right off the top of your initial investment into the fund or product. Either way, you are paying the commission even if you cannot see it.

This can also incentivize the advisor to place you into funds that pay them the highest commission, as opposed to what’s in your best interests.

What’s the bottom line?

Typically, commissions + fees will cost you more than fee-only financial advisors charging a percentage fee-only setup would on its own.

What Is a Commission-Only Financial Advisor?

A commission-only advisor earns all their income by selling products or investments on your behalf and taking a percentage of the sale price each time.

Commission-based financial products can include annuities, brokerage packages, mutual funds, and insurance.

You know where this one’s going:

Because this type of financial advisor derives all their income from sales and transactions, they may make investment and financial planning decisions that are not in your best interests.

More on this in a bit…

How Much Does Each Type of Advisor Charge?

Let’s do a little comparison of financial advisor fees and see how they stack up to each other.

And as stated, even though the services you get matter much more than just the fee you’ll be charged, you should still have an idea of how much a financial advisor costs, whether that’s fee-only, fee-based, or commission-based.

Fee-Only Charges

For fee-only financial advisors, fees could be based on flat fees, hourly, or percentage, or sometimes a combination such as an initial consultation fee combined with a percentage.

Flat-rate fees range from $2,000 to $10,000 for a one-time charge. And honestly, they could go much higher in certain situations.

As stated above, that gets you started with a “moment-in-time” financial or investment plan, and it becomes your responsibility to follow it from that point on. As your life situation evolves, you’ll find that one-time financial or investment plan becoming less and less relevant and helpful to your financial goals.

Hourly fees can range anywhere from $100 to $500 per hour, so how much a financial advisor costs varies dramatically. It depends on the complexity of your situation, the experience of the financial advisor, and other factors. This can get expensive fast.

Lastly:

Percentage fees hover around 1% of your assets under management, per year. But this can be quite a bit less depending on the size of your investment portfolio.

If you entrust $1 million to your investment advisor, a 1% fee would be $10,000. Now, you are not writing a check to your advisor for this amount. It is simply deducted from your managed investment portfolio.

By basing the fee on a percentage of assets under management, your advisor will make less when the investment portfolio declines in value and more when it increases in value. Obviously there is a big incentive for your advisor to keep the portfolio on track and doing well.

Here are the most important things to consider:

Many percentage-based financial advisors offer comprehensive wealth management services for this one fee. Ideally, this should at least include:

  • Ongoing, comprehensive financial planning
  • Ongoing investment management
  • Complete customization of financial plan and investment strategy
  • Continuous financial plan updates & collaboration
  • Ongoing consultation and communications
  • Rebalancing and monitoring your asset allocation
  • Risk management
  • Other personalized benefits
  • Unbiased fiduciary advice in your best interests

And for high-net-worth investors with more complex wealth management needs, you can expect many more services, including:

  • Tax minimization strategies
  • Estate planning expertise
  • Advice regarding complex financial decisions (e.g., when to offload company stock as you near retirement)
  • Business exit strategic planning
  • Insurance planning
  • Charitable giving
  • And more…

This all-encompassing percentage-fee type of compensation structure creates a “great user experience” for the client.

Which deal is better? How do you decide? We’re not done yet! There’s a lot more to this question than just the simple fees. Keep reading…

Fee-Based Charges

Your initial financial advisor fees with a fee-based advisor will look similar to those of the fee-only advisor. They could be hourly, percentage, or a flat fee.

As stated earlier, their fees may appear lower at first, but this financial advisor also earns income from commissions.

Their income starts on a baseline fee, and it increases from there. It’s similar to a mattress salesperson who earns a base income but has to earn commissions from actual sales to make a decent salary.

Don’t miss this:

It’s harder to know with commissions how much a financial advisor costs because you don’t always know when they’re earning a commission or an extra slice of the pie. Sure, they have to disclose it to you, but it could be buried on page 43 of a prospectus you didn’t read.

Commission Charges

Typical commissions for the selling of investment products and packages range from 3-6% of the sale. That means, if your commission-based (or fee-based) advisor invests $500,000 of your assets in a particular mutual fund, they would net a $25,000 commission at a 5% rate, per year.

As that example shows, it doesn’t take much for commissions to dwarf all the fee-only variations listed earlier. It’s expensive – plain and simple.

This is how some advisors justify saying they charge “zero” fees.

Generally, it’s pretty difficult to justify the higher costs of commission-based financial advisors. Your investments would need to perform far above how much a financial advisor costs and what they achieve for you, just to break even. The likelihood of that is exceedingly low.

So why does anyone go with commission-based advisors if they cost so much more?

You already know the answer.

Because they buy the pitch that this is a “zero-fee” advisor. This is accurate in the sense that in this case, how much a financial advisor costs is not based on a percentage, flat, or hourly fee, like a fee-only advisor.

But it’s inaccurate in the sense that the impression it gives is the financial advisor charges little to nothing, when in fact it’s very expensive in most cases.

Important:

At many of the big banks, investment advisor firms, and brokerage houses, financial advisors are paid primarily from commissions, but their advisors claim to be zero-fee.

We, at Financial Synergies Wealth Advisors, are a fee-only wealth management firm. We charge a simple percentage-based fee (on managed assets) that encompasses all our services: comprehensive financial planning, investment management, asset allocation, tax planning, estate planning, insurance planning, retirement analysis, social security optimization, and much more.

This fee-only structure is most common among fiduciary wealth managers serving affluent to high-net-worth clients.

We are also a fiduciary. We’ll discuss why this is an important distinction below.

The Fiduciary Standard and Financial Advisor Fees

The best assurance you can get that your financial advisor works to minimize your fees is if they follow the fiduciary standard.

What is a fiduciary?

A fiduciary is a financial advisor, wealth manager, or Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who adheres to the standard requiring them to only give financial advice that is in the best interests of their client. It is not an empty promise. An advisor who has taken the fiduciary oath is ethically and legally bound to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.

In other words, upon pain of legal liability, a fiduciary must always put the client’s best interests first and cannot sell their client an investment product that runs contrary to their needs, objectives, and risk tolerance.

Being a fiduciary financial advisor means we are only paid by our clients. This frees us from conflicts of interest and allows us to make unbiased financial planning and investment recommendations.

For a fiduciary, how much a financial advisor costs cannot be tied to his or her interests.
It’s extremely unlikely that a commission-based advisor would also act as a fiduciary (because living off commissions seldom aligns with your clients’ best interests).

Additional Financial Advisor Fee Considerations

In addition to investment management, if you need multiple financial planning services, like insurance, taxes, and estate planning, then how much a financial advisor costs can get complicated.

If your advisor offers all these services in-house, you may pay more to access them. You may want to avoid advisors who charge extra for these services. It can get expensive in a hurry.

Does your financial advisor offer these services as part of your overall fee, or do they charge extra?

This is why we say the fee alone doesn’t tell the fully story of how much a financial advisor costs.

What Does Financial Synergies Charge?

Financial Synergies Wealth Advisors is a fee-only financial advisor and wealth management firm. We are a fiduciary, and we charge an all-inclusive fixed percentage.

“All-inclusive” means we do not charge extra fees for any of the services we provide, including: comprehensive financial planning, investment management, asset allocation, tax planning, estate planning, insurance planning, retirement analysis, social security optimization, and much more.

If we need to collaborate with your estate lawyer, accountant, insurance rep, or other specialists, we work with them too, again at no extra fee. All this gets included in the single percentage fee.

Here’s the bottom line:

There is no simpler financial advisory compensation structure possible.

Conclusion: What is a Fee-Only Financial Advisor?

Hopefully this article has answered the question, “What is a fee-only financial advisor?” And provided a thorough explanation of the various other forms of financial advisor compensation structures.

It is critical to know how much a financial advisor costs and where their interests lie before utilizing their services.

Understanding the various compensation structures is crucial to choosing the right financial advisor for your financial circumstances. You should also strongly consider choosing a fiduciary advisor with a fee-only model. At the very least, this ensures your interests are aligned with your financial advisor.