In a recent Wall Street Journal article by Murray Coleman titled, “Online Advisers Enhance Free Services,” Mr. Coleman highlights the impact that a growing number of online financial advisors are having on the industry by offering more free tools and services. Such firms are offering free advice on things like asset allocation and instead charging for actual execution of an investment plan.
It appears a shift is underway in the financial advice distribution model. This past summer there was an article- this one in the New York Times- written by Tara Sieglel Bernard called, “A Start-Up Plans to Bring Financial Planning to the Masses,” which describes the start up of LearnVest, a new company uses both technology and financial planners to make financial advice accessible to millions of Americans.
While traditional financial planning firms focus on a more affluent clientele, online advisors tend to focus on servicing a broader, less affluent market. They are able to leverage technology to more easily scale their business and serve more people at a lower price point.
Of course, online financial advisors are still very early in their life-cycle so the ultimate impact on the industry is far from clear. And for the foreseeable future the more affluent among us will likely continue to seek and value the guidance that can only truly be delivered through a local, one-on-one relationship. Yet it is clear is that traditional financial advisors will continue to face growing pressure from online advisors. Combined with online trading platforms like E-trade and Fidelty more investment guidance and execution is being delivered online than ever before.
It will be interesting to see how the traditional financial advising firms respond over the next ten years. One way to help maintain relevance is to offer services outside of the scope of traditional financial and investment advice. Yet it seems that many traditional financial advisors are not doing this. As an example, this past week a study was released by Nationwide Financial revealed that 61% of pre-retirees are “terrified” of the impact of health care expenses on their finances during retirement. Yet, of those respondants who have used a financial advisor only 22% have even touched on the topic with their advisor. Where is the disconnect?
It is time for traditional financial advisors to begin talking with their clients about issues that matter most to them. In the next few years the oldest baby boomers will begin reaching their mid-retirement years (around age 70). Many of these retirees are concerned about being a burden on their adult children and effects of lonlieness in their later years. Yet I wonder how many advisors are equipped to have a useful conversation about the entire retirement living landscape: the pros and cons of aging in place versus moving to a retirement community, the difference between independent living versus continuing care retirement communities, versus assisted living, and how long-term care insurance impacts the various choices.
These are meaningful issues for a number of families and ones that will present tremendous planning opportunities for traditional financial advisors in the coming years.
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