Just how much is financial advice worth?

Financial advisers are shocked at how little the public thinks they're worth. But do they do enough to prove it? Merryn Somerset Webb investigates.

What's the right price for financial advice? According to the results of a survey out last week from CoreData Research, the answer is £39. That's the average price consumers say they are prepared to pay for an hour of advice. Financial advisers are horrified that anyone could think their time worth so little the standard assumption in the industry is that, once commission payments are finally outlawed by the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) in 2013, an hour with a good adviser should come in at a healthy £200.

But, as Nic Cicutti points out in Money Marketing, they shouldn't be surprised by the low figure. The fact that their charging structure has been based on opaque commission systems for so many decades means that most people have very little idea of the cost, or the worth, of financial advice.

Of those surveyed, 10% told CoreData they thought advice was always free and the rest clearly didn't stop to think of the preparation involved in giving advice or of the financial overheads advisers face. People know a lawyer costs something in the region of £150 an hour because there is an acknowledged going rate for a solicitor.

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Commission means that no one knows what the going rate for financial advice is or should be and too many people feel they get little from it anyway: in too many cases, "advisers somehow have failed to demonstrate any worth in their relationships with clients".

If they were good at what they do and, crucially, good at explaining what they do, this problem wouldn't exist: "if you speak to any good, competent financial adviser, they will tell you that once their clients understand what is being done for the fees they charge, very few balk at the amount they are being asked to pay".

Cicutti might be right but I have a feeling that the financial advice industry is about to be hit by more than just trouble squeezing fees out of people.

There is serious competition on the way in the form of online financial planners. We have long held that most people have relatively generic financial needs one 45-year-old man with an income of say, £40,000 to £70,000, a mortgage, a pension and an individual savings account (Isa) is, in financial terms, much the same as any other.

So it's possible for a computer to input the variables and give simple advice. Go to Moneyvista.com or Rplan.co.uk and you'll see this is exactly what is beginning to happen. Neither site fits the bill completely, but one that does can't be far behind. Financial advisers think it will be the RDR that destroys their profits. It might be that the internet does it first.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.