Working with Clients
What is the cost to join, and what do I get for that sum?
The first year's fee to ACA ranges from $7,500 to $10,500 depending on the support program that you qualify for. $3,000 of that amount is your annual membership dues which cover access to the member Online Community and all of its features (file libraries, discussion forums, resource database, and more). The remainder of your initial fee covers your education and support program as well as your first conference registration, various administrative costs, and your contribution to the continued growth and development of ACA and the ACA System™.
I’m just starting a practice. How much can I expect to make in the first few years using the ACA System™?
If you follow our recommendations, you should expect to break even your first year, make a profit your second year, and have a self-supporting practice at the end of three years. Your results will directly correlate with how closely you stick to the ACA System™ and how much time and energy you dedicate to building your practice.
How much can I expect to spend in the first years if I’m starting a practice from scratch?
We've analyzed the costs of a typical sole practitioner and an ACA member. Our research has shown that the ACA member operates at 34% less cost than a non-ACA member. You can review a detailed cost comparison.
What type of administrative support can I expect?
The ACA System™ gives you the tools you need to put the administrative systems in place that will help reduce start-up or transition time and keep your practice running efficiently, including:
Forms and spreadsheets - practice performance tracking, client contract templates, and fee calculation templates.
Business start-up tools - information and guidance on identifying the right business structure, office location, equipment, software, and supplies.
Organization strategies - direction on setting up your client files, time management systems, and accounting systems.
Staffing issues - help with identifying staffing needs and training programs as well as resources for hiring virtual staff.
Network of support - conference calls, conference sessions, special interest groups, and the ACA Intranet which will help you learn from other members, avoid costly mistakes, and turbo-charge your progress.
What computer software do I need?
Most ACA members purchase a client management system (ProTracker, Junxure, ACT, RedTail, and Business Contact Manager for Outlook are most popular), tax preparation software (Lacerte and Drake are most popular), tax planning software (Lacerte and Tax Tools are most popular), and some level of Morningstar for investment research.
Some ACA members purchase financial planning/retirement planning/cash flow projection software in addition to the tools provided by ACA.
Since we strongly recommend paperless offices, we suggest that all new members purchase Adobe Acrobat (the full version, not just the free reader) and some type of file manager (PaperPort is popular).
Does ACA help me become an RIA?
You are responsible for completing and submitting your Form ADV, but ACA provides a model ADV (written by compliance attorneys) that you can customize as well as two hours of access to compliance attorneys familiar with the ACA System™ (and discounts on additional hours if needed).
Is there any other registration and compliance support I receive?
Yes. Here are some of the other tools and support we provide:
A list of questions you MUST ask your state regulators
A wide sample of member ADVs to see how they have worded their responses
Tips on staying in compliance with record keeping requirements
A discount on a compliance manual designed specifically for ACA member practices
Information on what to expect during a compliance audit
A list of recommended compliance experts
What type of marketing support does ACA provide?
Because marketing is critical to building a successful practice, ACA has developed a systematic program designed specifically for this type of practice. The Marketing Resource Guide provides an overview of the marketing support members receive. Some highlights include:
What type of training will I receive?
The ACA Success Program, ACA’s comprehensive training program, is comprised of several different learning platforms that fully prepare members to implement the ACA System™ into their practices, including self study, virtual classroom, group instruction, coaching and mentoring, and the Visiting Advisor Program. Learn more about the ACA Success Program.
What type of ongoing support is provided once the initial training is complete?
Members have access to a variety of sources of support including a mentor program, a Success Program Concierge, and other members via the members-only Discussion Forum. Teleseminars and webinars are held throughout the year on a variety of practice management, marketing, and continuing education topics. And, of course, our annual ACA Conference is a great opportunity to review and refresh existing skills while also acquiring new ones. For more details on the support you can expect, click on the Benefits of Membership page.
Who does the training?
Successful ACA members with proven teaching and training skills are your teachers during the Virtual Classroom sessions and the live Group Instruction. Teams of ACA members continually review and update the training materials.
What ACA membership requirements must I meet before I can apply?
Complete all educational requirements for CFP® or CPA/PFS designation
Abide by the NAPFA definition of “fee-only” for all new clients
All other membership requirements must be met within one to three years.
Is a tax background necessary to join ACA?
No. However we do require new members without a tax background to take a tax course prior to attending the Group Instruction. H&R Block, National Tax Training School, People’s Tax, and Quickfinder courses meet this requirement.
National Tax Training School – online course
Advisors should take the Federal Income Tax Course to meet ACA requirements
People’s Income Tax – online course
Advisors should take the Comprehensive Income Tax Course (Basic Part I and Intermediate Part II) to meet ACA requirements
Working with Clients
Is it true that ACA members don’t write a financial plan?
Yes. A basic tenet of the ACA System™ is that financial planning is a process, not an event. Our members build the "financial plan" one step at a time over a series of appointments with each client. Instead of one document, members prepare a series of recommendations dealing with every area of a client's financial life, and those accumulated recommendations, in conjunction with other projections and analysis, comprise the plan. Recommendations are written during the appointment, in front of the client.
How is the annual retainer calculated?
The retainer fee is based on each client’s income, net worth, and the complexity of that client's situation. ACA provides a fee-calculation template, with each member determining his or her own fee amounts to use in the template.
Why do ACA members charge on a retainer basis instead of hourly?
ACA members provide peace of mind to their clients, and the retainer fee is a component of that peace of mind. Clients like to know that when they have a question or circumstances change they can contact their advisor at no additional fee. Clients are much less likely to make costly mistakes because they chose to go it alone instead of contacting their advisor.
Clients also don’t have to pay more for an advisor’s lack of knowledge or experience since when you are paying someone by the hour you can easily end up paying for his or her inefficiency. As a matter of fact, there may be an inherent conflict of interest if the advisor makes more money by being inefficient.
For the advisor, charging an annual retainer creates a steady revenue stream. Once your initial client base is established, your marketing efforts can be focused on developing relationships with your personal networks, gatekeepers in your community, and your existing clients (who will be your best sales force) rather than creating a continuing stream of new clients critical to your cash flow and success. And the retainer fee model allows you to charge based on the value you create for your clients. The more value you can create, the higher the fees you can command.
What about charging as a percentage of assets under management?
Charging based on AUM is an easy-to-understand system, but it fails to address the complexities of true holistic financial planning. ACA members are not just investment advisors. They focus on their clients’ entire net worth and on the financial factors and behaviors clients can control. Retainer pricing avoids the inherent conflicts of interest found in AUM (such as gifting strategies or paying off a mortgage). Retainer pricing also provides that steady revenue stream – client fees are not dependent on the performance of the stock market. As an ACA member, you are not prohibited from charging based on AUM, but the vast majority of our members find it an inferior alternative.