Fees for Service or Fees for Access?

Access Price is similar to the fees I pay each year to my golf club.

Regardless if I play once a year or multiple times a year, I need to pay this fee to gain access to the club, course and facilities.

The access fee does not provide for lessons, special competition green fees nor any additional services for refreshments, buggy hire, or supplies from the shop, restaurant or other facilities such as accommodation, tennis courts, bowling greens.

However, for my access fee, I expect the course to be ‘ready’, to be ‘in order’ for me.

The course is kept in working condition, the greens and fairways are mowed, the flags on the green are being shifted, the bunkers are manicured and the like. If any hole is out of play or parts of a hole is obstructed, it will be fixed and returned to expectation – everything is in order. The only thing I need to focus upon is enjoying the company of my playing mates and my game.



When clients pay their access fee, the commitment from the advisory firm to the client is similar in some ways to the commitment from my golf club. For as long as they pay the access fee, their financial life should remain ‘in order’.

Like golf clubs, there are different categories of advice relationships.

Generally, the different access fees represent the different advice niches each with unique varieties of services for each firm. Younger clients are seeking different value than older clients. Clients in mid-life are seeking different value from clients approaching the end of working careers. So too are clients in their small businesses seeking different value from clients in employment.

The number of different categories vary based upon the size of firms and sometimes locations. Firms in regional, provincial and less populous locations may require a broader spread of niches due to the lack of geographically convenient and respected complementary firms offering an alternative range of services. Firms in more populous areas have more choice of complementary firms that specialise in the niches your firm may not.

The implementation of access fees starts slowly and focused.



These are best implemented with one or two niches of clients, growing to three or four over twelve to twenty-four months. Further expansion occurs once lessons, insights and confidence on value and approach have been tested, proved and grown. Aside from the considerations for firms in regional locations, the total number of niches is often dependent upon the number of senior advisers each overseeing approximately two or three niches.

The range of services and the manner the services are provided differ for each different type of access fee. While individual clients are marked up based upon specific and unique circumstances, behaviours and situations of each client access fees can be considered as minimum fees or as the ‘precedent fee’ for clients within a specific advice niche.

Each niche would have a varying range of services based upon the common complexities encountered. Fundamentally the access fee ensures clients within a specific advisory niche can have similar expectations to when I turn up to play golf – just as everything is ‘in order’ regarding the golf course, everything in the scope of comprehensive advice is in ‘order’ in financial lives. It can be regarded as a ‘no surprises’ offering covering the scope of advice agreed to.

Whereas in traditional financial advice relationships with a high focus on product maintains clients within appropriate financial products, access fees ensure clients of comprehensive advice remain on their best possible financial path that maximises all probabilities, without providing guarantees, to both address and manage the issues and complexities in their lives, while also ensuring they are on the best track to achieve their unmet short and longer-term unmet aspirations.



Unlike a product-focused engagement model, financial paths don’t always require products.

The traditional focus of financial services relationships such as achieving the highest investment returns or paying the lowest fees are important, but not as important as ensuring the steps to achieve the best possible management of particular progress towards the value each client uniquely seeks, both beyond existing and coming complexities and towards future as yet unmet aspirations within hoped time-frames.

Paths also navigate around or circumvent significant issues, complexities and transitional phases that may not require a product but do require advice and planning.

While on-path, or on-track, paying an agreed access fee, clients can expect their advisory firm to keep their financial life ‘in order’.

This may include the delivery of specific services such as the management of cash flows, taxation, risk, investments, superannuation, debt, business planning, financial structures, and estates. Keeping financial lives ‘in order’ will also involve the overview, management and alignment of services provided by third-party suppliers (e.g. banks) and experts (e.g. property) needed to ensure paths are adhered to.

Access fees remunerate the advisory firm for their oversight, management and control of the many considerations, consequences and options that have identified and included within the scope of the advice that will affect a client’s financial life.

Beyond specific technical expertise and capability provided, access fees also take into consideration the client’s financial lives and behaviours, their unique short-term financial situations or longer-term financial circumstances, or external factors from uncontrollable financial markets, or changes in financial regulations and legislations or, in fact, any change in variety or type of relevant financial products regulations are where possible anticipated, or when are unexpected (e.g. Covid-19) are managed to restore, re-establish or if necessary re-pathed to regain progress along new and more productive paths.



The change is as perennial as the grass growing at my golf club.

Not all change can be catered for within the access price.

In a broad scope of comprehensive engagement, everything can and does change.  Products, legislation, markets, clients aspirations, the effect of people important to client’s financial lives change, health change, accidents happen, careers and jobs change, tragedies occur, some relationships fade while others sprout. Some of these can be catered for within access fees.

Some changes are out of the existing scope of access, requiring additional services and fees.

These services are in addition to the access services and needed only when clients and advisory team confirm there are needed or better financial steps towards the same or new value to overcome new, more pressing or worsening complexities affecting the passage of clients along with their financial lives.

As with all fees, if the new Services fees are not of value to the client, they don’t proceed. However, if the adviser believes that forward progress is significantly handicapped without additional services, making the fulfilment of Plato’s Purpose difficult if not impossible, it presents significant decisions for the adviser to consider.

What do you reckon?


photo credit: JJS_ManlyGC




For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His firm, Certainty Advice Group coaches, trains and is building a growing group of advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, priced on value. The community of advisory firms aligns with Australia’s highest and only ACCC/IP Australia Certification Mark standard of comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored three books regarding financial advisory firms and is due to release his fourth book mid this year – What Price Value.

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