Online fee disclosure is one of those topics on which everyone seems to have an opinion. Some people believe it should be mandatory, while others point out the difficulties in accurately disclosing fees before the scope of advice is understood.
Late last year the Solicitors Regulation Authority introduced rules requiring solicitors to publish fees for certain types of work in a prominent place on their website. However, I see no appetite from the FCA to force online fee disclosure.
Of course, there are good reasons why individual firms would choose to publish their fees online. However, our research shows most choose not to:
- 33 per cent mention fees on their websites
- Only 5 per cent disclose the likely fees paid by clients
Over the past six months, we’ve seen an increasing number of firms choose to disclose their fees online. Sure, it’s a small data set, but if some are taking the leap, others will be considering it. So, I thought it would be useful to guide you through the pros and cons of online fee disclosure.
Before we get to that though, I should explain my position. Frankly, I’m on the fence. I can see both very good reasons for disclosing your fees online and reasons not to. For me, it’s a decision which should be made by individual firms, based on the objectives of the business. It certainly shouldn’t be mandatory.
That said, here are the key pros and cons of online fee disclosure:
- It demonstrates transparency and confidence in the value your clients receive
- Assuming the page isn’t hidden away, it can act as a filter, weeding out those potential clients who put a greater emphasis on the amount they might pay, rather than the value they will receive
- Clients are more likely to have firm expectations about the amount they will pay when they meet you for the first time
- As so few advisers and planners publish their fees online, doing so is a real differentiator
- Some potential clients, who might otherwise have made contact, might be dissuaded from doing so when they see your fees online
- Building a truly effective fees page takes considerable time and thought – it isn’t enough to simply publish your client agreement and hope for the best
- If you’re not specific about what you charge, there’s a danger potential clients will leap to the wrong conclusion. For example, if you suggest your initial fees range between, say, £3,000 and £10,000, some visitors will gravitate to the upper end, others the lower. Neither though will get an accurate picture of what they will be charged
Don’t hide your fees away
On average visitors spend 117 seconds per visit to an adviser/planners website looking at an average of 2.63 pages, that’s according to data from The Adviser Website Index. Clearly, you will only accrue the potential benefits of online fee disclosure if people visit the page and spend time engaging with it.
To maximise the people who see it, make the page easy to find, adding it to the main navigation or as a prominent drop-down option. When it comes to the page itself, make it easy to understand and add context by:
- Including your fees at every stage of the advice process
- Explaining the services that will be provided
- Demonstrating your value by using social proof – testimonials, case studies and client videos
- Including fee comparisons, showing how your fees compare to others
While it’s vital to include all this information, it’s nevertheless a lot for the visitor to take in. That’s where carefully crafted content and effective design come in to play.
As I said, it’s for every firm to decide about what’s right for them. However, if you do decide to disclose fees online, it’ll be one of the most popular pages on your site and will materially affect the effectiveness of your site. Don’t rush the development of the page, take your time and do it right.
Phil Bray is director of The Yardstick Agency