Can You Trust Your Financial Adviser?

Heroes or villains?

“All industries have a few bad apples. I would say that 80% of financial advisers are either good or very good” or “It’s just 99% of financial advisers who give the rest of us a bad name”

Financial advisers, also called financial consultants, financial planners, retirement planners or wealth advisers, occupy a strange position amongst the ranks of those who would sell to us. With most other sellers, whether they are pushing cars, clothes, condos or condoms, we understand that they’re just doing a job and we accept that the more they sell to us, the more they should earn. But Financial adviser the proposition that financial advisers come with is unique. They claim, or at least intimate, that they can make our money grow by more than if we just shoved it into a long-term, high-interest bank account. If they couldn’t suggest they could find higher returns than a bank account, then there would be no point in us using them. Yet, if they really possessed the mysterious alchemy of getting money to grow, why would they tell us? Why wouldn’t they just keep their secrets to themselves in order to make themselves rich?

The answer, of course, is that most financial advisers are not expert horticulturalists able to grow money nor are they alchemists who can transform our savings into gold. The only way they can earn a crust is by taking a bit of everything we, their clients, save. Sadly for us, most financial advisers are just salespeople whose standard of living depends on how much of our money they can encourage us to put through their not always caring hands. And whatever portion of our money they take for themselves to pay for things like their mortgages, pensions, cars, holidays, golf club fees, restaurant meals and children’s education must inevitably make us poorer.

To make a reasonable living, a financial adviser will probably have costs of about £100,000 to £200,000 ($150,000 to $300,000) a year in salary, office expenses, secretarial support, travel costs, marketing, communications and other bits and pieces. So a financial adviser has to take in between £2,000 ($3,000) and £4,000 ($6,000) a week in fees and commissions, either as an employee or running their own business. I’m guessing that on average financial advisers will have between fifty and eighty clients. Of course, some successful ones will have many more and those who are struggling will have fewer. This means that each client will be losing somewhere between £1,250 ($2,000) and £4,000 ($6,000) a year from their investments and retirement savings either directly in upfront fees or else indirectly in commissions paid to the adviser by financial products suppliers. Advisers would probably claim that their specialist knowledge more than compensates for the amounts they squirrel away for themselves in commissions and fees. But numerous studies around the world, decades of financial products mis-selling scandals and the disappointing returns on many of our investments and pensions savings should serve as an almost deafening warning to any of us tempted to entrust our own and our family’s financial futures to someone trying to make a living by offering us financial advice.

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