This is the sort of help people generally think of when they think of money. Somebody who is an expert on the money – rather than on the reasons why you want the money, what you want to do with it, why you are upset because you haven’t got enough of it or whether you want to find another way to get it!
Financial advice really ought to include a lot of those more psychological elements, and some advisers are realising this. I’ll be setting up a list of them on the site shortly. For example, how well does the advisor know you and your goals and values? You might want to think about how well they comply with the need to “know the customer“.
In the meantime, what they have to know is the technical side – and there is quite a range of ability there, from the current minimum (about one A-level standard) to the top level (assessed at Masters degree level). Bear in mind that you wouldn’t use a solicitor who didn’t have a law degree plus a year or two of specialist training or a GP who didn’t have a doctorate and a couple of years of specialist training and you get the picture.
The good news is that anybody giving advice is regulated (usually by the Financial Services Authority (FSA)). Specifically those giving advice on investments, savings, pensions life insurance and mortgages have to be registered. There is a minimum technical standard, they have to comply with accounting controls and there are codes of ethics and conduct. You can check this via their website www.FSA.gov.uk
If you are paying for advice, you obviously want a good advisor. That includes technical qualifications, which (I think) ought to be at the same minimum level (masters) as other professional advisers. The qualifications are mostly monitored by the Personal Finance Society (PFS) which has a website: http://www.thepfs.org/pfs.aspx. The PFS in turn is part of the Chartered Insurance Institute(CII). There is a search facility for advisers via http://www.findanadviser.org/.
What you are ideally looking for is Chartered Financial Planner. That is assessed at masters level. There are various titles around that level such as Associate or Fellow of the Personal Finance Society (APFS and FPFS). Check on the PFS website to see what those mean.
To make things a bit more complicated there is an international organisation (principally US, but it does operate in other countries) called the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP). They have a qualification called Certified Financial Planner which seems to be at a similar level to the Chartered Financial Planner, although it doesn’t seem to be assessed by examination. You can find out about that on their website.
There are three types of advisor.
- Tied – can only recommend the products of one company. They must “select and recommend products that are most appropriate” for you from that range.
- Multi-Tied – can only advise on products from the range offered by a few organisations to which they are “tied” and must “select and recommend those that are most appropriate” from those ranges. .
- Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) – can advise you on products from the whole of the market.
You’ll notice that it is all about product, not what you actually want to achieve with your money. Hence my point earlier about them really needing to know some psychology as well. However, at the moment they don’t need to, so if you’re looking for advice:
- Get an IFA, I can’t see any point in using somebody who isn’t independent.
- Ideally one who is a Chartered or possibly Certified, Financial Planner.
- Preferably one that has training in the material on this site and in my book.
- Sort out a fee and ask them when it would be fair for them and advantageous for you to look at offsetting commissions
- Know what you are trying to do, your values, goals etc. so you can give them a really detailed idea of what you want.