THIS month I feel that I should start with the assurance that this is not going to be another article about Brexit, and I assure you I will not be mentioning that word again in the following paragraphs.
However, if the political events of the past few years have taught us anything, they have taught us that nothing can be predicted, whether politically or economically.
The other thing we have learned is that everyone has an opinion. Sometimes that opinion is delivered with love, by a family member or close friend. Sometimes it’s foisted on us by a colleague or the person sitting next to us on the bus, but however it is delivered it is important to remember the context and not to allow ourselves to be carried along and perhaps make an important decision without the relevant facts.
Certainly, one would hope that for the most important issues such as our health or our finances we would include at least one specialist in the process.
Then again, in the world today we have so much information instantly available on our phones and other devices that we can become overconfident, feeling like an instant expert. It is then perhaps understandable that we seem increasingly reluctant to trust specialist advisers when making important decisions. Who hasn’t had a medical diagnosis and immediately fact-checked the details on Google? Or what about your work pension, did you read the literature and meet with HR to discuss the features, or just ask the person at the desk next to you?
So, when facing an important financial decision would you seek expert financial advice, or would you go it alone? It is my firm belief that using a financial adviser should leave you better informed and ultimately better off financially than you would have been had you not used one.
It’s not just about investment growth, although we all aim for that! It’s more about making sure that you understand your options and that once you have a plan, that it has the right framework, is robust, practical and realistic. Your financial adviser can also be your financial conscience, making sure you have properly considered the advantages, disadvantages and consequences of your actions. Over time they will revisit and review your plans, making sure that they remain appropriate and up to date.
Finding the right adviser
Choosing the right person, and the right firm, is a crucial part of the process. Just as your financial adviser will investigate your circumstances, complete questionnaires and gather documents to establish your preferences, I would encourage you to do the same about them. Find out about the person you will be dealing with, ask about their background and qualifications. What experience do they have that suggests they are the right person for the job at hand? Do you feel comfortable and relaxed enough to provide honest answers to their questions and to ask frank questions of them?
Then ask them about their business model. How does the business operate and what checks and balances are in place to ensure that your adviser is not working alone or unsupervised within their business?
Think about the practical issues. How easy is it to get access to your adviser? Are you introduced to other members of the team, bearing in mind that your day-to-day queries may well be handled by one of a team of admin staff? Is there another adviser available to you if your normal contact is on leave, or is there an impression that your relationship is exclusive, and, as a result, perhaps not as transparent as it should be?
Bespoke or off the shelf?
Financial products can be complex, there is no escaping that and I make no apology for it. With legal and regulatory factors to cover as well as the technical features of investment products, and pensions in particular, you can find yourself with a mountain of paperwork to wade through and understand before, yes before, you make a final decision.
Because of the complex nature of the products and services you will be discussing, your adviser should be prepared to spend as much time as you need to make this more manageable – perhaps dealing with each part of the process as a distinct stage. This is why investments and pensions are best dealt with over a number of meetings, which also has the advantage of providing you the time to reflect on your choices before giving the final ‘go-ahead’.
What about the cost of advice? You would be right to expect to pay for expert financial advice and an outline of charges should be provided early on, but don’t let the potential cost put you off. Fees are based on a number of factors and in reality the cost may not be as bad as you think. It’s just a question of understanding what your adviser and the business are going to do to earn those fees.
However, even before you get to the stage of paying a fee, bear in mind that it is very rare to find an adviser who isn’t prepared to offer you at least one meeting free of charge. This will allow them to establish the basics and give you an idea of the services they can offer which might provide a solution to your requirements. This will then enable them to give you an estimate of the cost long before you reach the stage where a formal proposal is made.
You are the most important part of this whole process. It’s not just about asking the right questions and taking an active part in the discussion. It’s not just about making sure you understand the recommendations being made. It’s about knowing yourself. Does the investment or recommendation ‘sit’ right with your personality and your attitude to risk? Do you have that feeling in your gut that just won’t go away?
Oddly enough I’d also suggest that some aspects of your personality may not be helpful. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand, to ask for a second opinion or to take a friend or family member with you to the meetings.
Do resist the urge to ‘just do it’ because you don’t have the time or the enthusiasm to read all the documents.
So what’s changed?
I’m the first to admit that the banks and independent advisers have not covered themselves in glory over the years, and we continue to see the ripples of these institutional problems when we read the papers, local and national. Our industry must continue to work hard to demonstrate that we have the right people and the right business model to meet the needs of our clients.
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. The key is how we react to those mistakes, how we go about making things right. Are we as an industry able to learn from situations that have gone wrong and do our absolute best to make sure they never happen again?
Above all, remember that not all advisers are built the same. The vast majority are just like you – honest, hard-working and conscientious – living with the same concerns as you: protecting their savings, funding their children’s education or caring for an ailing parent. They will understand the need to juggle finances and day-to-day responsibilities and will appreciate the value of time and money saved through the use of a well-thought-out plan and that all-important second opinion. Your financial adviser cannot predict the future. They can only make an educated guess about what the investment markets are going to do and we certainly don’t know what dramatic events will occur in our clients’ lives. What we can do is listen to the needs of our clients and help to guide them towards their goals and to think seriously, and realistically, about their future and what they want to achieve financially.
So next time you sit down to make or update your financial plans, make a call to your financial adviser part of that process.
For more information about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Helen Cooke and her team at email@example.com.