Mason & Associates, LLC, has ambitious plans to redefine the financial planning industry, client by client. They are an independent financial planning firm located in Newport News, Virginia.
Their team has come to trust and rely on AdvicePay for its payment processing solutions. We got the opportunity to sit down with John Mason, Senior Financial Advisor, and understand more about their business and their use of AdvicePay in particular. Read on to see what he had to say.
Q: Can you give us some background on yourself and your firm?
John: In 2010, I earned a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech's Pamplin School of Business and completed the Certified Financial Planner™ education requirement. I passed the CFP® exam in November 2010 and earned the designation in September 2012. In addition to the CFP® designation, I hold the Series 7, Series 24, Series 66, and Virginia Health, Life & Annuities.
Mason & Associates, LLC was founded by my father, Michael Mason, and my uncle, Kenneth Mason, in 2003 and I joined the firm after college graduation in May 2010. Currently, our firm has five financial planners and seven team members. One of my passions is to go back to Virginia Tech and speak to undergraduates about our firm, recruit interns, and interview potential hires.
Because of our location in Hampton Roads, VA, we have the unique opportunity to specialize with federal, state, and local employees and military personnel due to our close proximity to Langley Air Force Base, Little Creek Navy Base, Ft. Eustis Army Base, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipbuilding, and NASA, to name a few. Our knowledge of federal, military, and state government benefits and pensions has provided us the opportunity to work with several private sector employers in Hampton Roads, VA and throughout the country. Because of the transient nature of our federal/military clients, and because of our client experience, we are able to maintain long-distance relationships with people who live all over the United States.
My wife, Sara, and I live in Yorktown, Virginia. We’re expecting our first child, a son, in November of 2019 and have a golden retriever named Penny. We enjoy traveling, especially to snowboarding destinations. We’ve been snowboarding in Wyoming and Colorado and my dream is to snowboard in Japan. I also love to golf, and when I’m not on the course, you can find me practicing my swing in the family room while watching the Golf Channel.
Q: When did you start using AdvicePay?
John: June 2018
Q: What challenges or needs did you face that led you to look for a solution like ours?
John: In 2016-2017, my dad, uncle, and I realized we were reaching capacity and didn’t have room for additional clients. This forced us to evaluate all aspects of our business; specifically, revenue per client family. We were able to quickly determine that revenue per family was not high enough for us to meet our personal and professional goals. We decided to establish a minimum fee per family and maximum number of clients per advisor. Our number one priority was to continue to serve our Legacy Clients (the clients who trusted in us when we started in 2003), and unfortunately, many of those clients were contributing to the low average revenue per family. We were looking for a solution to continue to serve our Legacy Clients and also be paid appropriately for our services.
Q: Describe your selection process and what criteria you were looking for. How did you go about searching for a solution?
John: Our team worked closely with our Broker Dealer and Registered Investment Advisor, Centaurus Financial, Inc., to find a solution and to help us develop our fee for service model. I did extensive research and determined that AdvicePay was the proper fit. Centaurus performed their due diligence and came to the same conclusion and made AdvicePay available to the Investment Advisor Representatives in 2018.
Q: What results and benefits have you seen since implementing AdvicePay?
John: Although we only started using AdvicePay a year ago, the benefits and results have been tremendous. Currently, we are billing $7,000 in monthly financial planning fees. Being able to charge a monthly fee for service has enabled us to do the following:
- Attract younger clients and families whose assets are primarily invested in employer plans
- Turn unprofitable client relationships into break-even or profitable relationships
- Reduce the number of client relationships per advisor
- Help us build a better business by increasing our valuation as well as giving us the confidence to know we are worth it
Q: Which features are most valuable to you in AdvicePay?
John: It’s super easy to use! Clients can quickly log in and pay the invoice via a checking account or credit card and the advisor is able to see who is registered for the service or still in the start up process. I really like how AdvicePay provides a quick list of clients enrolled, monthly revenue, and monthly revenue projections.
Q: Had you implemented the fee-for-service model within your business prior to using AdvicePay?
John: Yes, we have been charging one-time financial planning fees since 2010 but not recurring or retainer fees. Like most firms, the majority of recurring revenue is derived from AUM.
Q: What benefits do you see with offering the fee-for-service model to your clients?
John: First, we are able to continue to serve our Legacy Clients and do it profitably. We can’t exist without our clients and it is important to us that we continually provide exceptional service.
Second, the fee-for-service model also eliminates conflicts of interest. Although there are several benefits of moving funds out of employer plans to Individual Retirement Arrangements, there are also several reasons not to. It’s refreshing to have a method to get compensated when acting as fiduciary for clients. For decades, fiduciaries in our industry have struggled with how to charge appropriate fees on assets held away and for planning services for clients with little or no AUM -- we finally have a way to do that!
Third, we have a few clients who love managing their own portfolio but want our expertise in planning for federal employees and all areas of financial planning. AdvicePay allows us to work with these clients in a way that works for both the advisor and the client.
Q: What types of clients are you working with most under the fee-for-service model?
John: There are two main kinds of clients at our firm who are using Advice Pay. The first are clients aged 30-55 with the majority of their assets in employer plans. These clients will likely convert to AUM as assets become available. The second are our Legacy Clients.
Q: How have your clients reacted to using AdvicePay?
John: When Advice Pay was presented to our Legacy Clients, 75% agreed to the fee. The 25% who decided not to continue a relationship with us created an opportunity for our firm to take on new clients.
The overwhelming majority of our new clients fall into the AUM category. New clients who start with AdvicePay (not AUM clients) are typically in the age range of 30-55 years old and are receptive to AdvicePay. We are striving for a 50% conversion ratio.
Q: Where do you see the industry moving and how do you stay on top of industry changes and new technology?
John: The industry will ultimately move to the fee-for-service and retainer model, but full adoption will take years, if not decades, assuming legislation doesn’t force it on us quicker. In general, consumers don’t like bills and a monthly fee can be painful for clients as they are constantly forced to revisit and justify the decision to hire an advisory team. I believe that 90% or more of clients still prefer to pay fees out of an investment account rather than a checking account because it doesn’t affect their take home pay or their net spendable income. However, our Legacy and new clients have proven that they will pay a fee for specialized knowledge and service. In addition, most of our clients don’t enjoy researching mutual funds, implementing asset allocation, rebalancing, and trading their own accounts. The traditional 1% AUM fee is still the preferred method because it eliminates the monthly bill and the management of the account.
I’ve found that younger clients are more comfortable using an app, a robo, or managing their own accounts, but decide to have a relationship with a financial planner, because they value advice. I believe the industry will continue to move towards the idea that advice is the number one value that we bring as advisors, not portfolio returns.
Q: What would you tell others who might be considering AdvicePay?
John: Don’t be scared to implement something new and don’t feel guilty for charging a fee. It seems that most advisors don’t charge a fee because they are scared of being told no or they don’t believe they’re worth it. Your entire business doesn’t need to convert from AUM or commission (or a combo) to retainer or fee-for-service, but the successful firms of the future will offer that service.
Our goal is to be positioned in a way to succeed, regardless of how the industry changes (best interest contract, fiduciary standard, new CFP® standards, etc.). Practicing and implementing this now, while we’re still able to maintain the other compensation methods, positions our firm to thrive when the industry pivots.
Securities & advisory services offered through Centaurus Financial, Inc., Member FINRA and SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Mason & Associates, LLC and Centaurus Financial, Inc. are not affiliated companies. This is not an offer to sell securities, which may be done only after proper delivery of a prospectus and client suitability is reviewed and determined. Information relating to securities is intended for use by individuals residing in California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
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Posted by Lucy Robeson, CFP®
Lucy uses her leadership skills to guide the AdvicePay team, while implementing the company vision, mission, and long-term goals. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and has extensive experience in comprehensive financial planning, directing firm operations, and (unrelated) swimming with bull sharks while living in Fiji. Lucy is passionate about promoting the fee-for-service business model and helping financial planners understand how and why to adopt it into their businesses. When she’s not working, you can find Lucy on the tennis court, hiking in the mountains, and cheering on the Virginia Tech Hokies.