The way many financial advisers work is about to change. This is good news for consumers. It's an advice revolution!
Financial advisers have taken a lot of stick over the years. Much of the criticism has been deserved and I’ve been pretty negative myself in the past.
However, things are now changing for the better. New rules are about to come in which will mean that you can visit a financial adviser from January with much more confidence. And that means you could start to transform your finances in 2013.
The rule changes are a result of something called the Retail Distribution Review (RDR), but the name isn’t important. What matters are two big changes:
1. All advisers must have decent qualifications
From January, all advisers must have passed exams which are roughly equivalent to completing the first year of a university degree. In the jargon, this is known as ‘Level 4.’ This should mean that all advisers really know what they’re talking about.
2. Charges for financial advice are becoming much more transparent
Traditionally, the majority of financial advice clients have received ‘free’ advice.
In other words, they visited an adviser on a couple of occasions and the adviser would then normally recommend some products – perhaps a pension or a unit trust. If the client then bought one of those products, the adviser would receive commission from the product provider.
The trouble with this approach was that the customer didn’t really know what was going on. What’s more, there was a risk that an adviser might recommend a product because the provider paid a high commission.
As a result, some people have argued that financial advisers were more like salespeople rather than true advisers.
Going forward, some advisers may still offer free introductory consultations to potential clients. These meetings will be truly free with no strings.
However, at some point, the adviser will want to make some money and there are two ways he can do that.
Firstly, the adviser could charge an upfront fee which the client would pay regardless of what advice is given.
The second approach is the adviser taking a cut if an investment product or pension is sold. That might sound like commission but it isn’t really.
That’s because the adviser has to disclose a set fee at the beginning of the process, and he also has to say that the fee will be taken from any product that might be sold.
So the adviser won’t have any incentive to recommend the product that pays the highest commission. He’ll charge the same fee regardless of which product is recommended.
On top of that, advisers will no longer be able to receive ongoing commission from any new products they sell. So if you buy a pension product in January 2013, your adviser won’t still be receiving commission from the provider in 2015.
The real crux of the changes is that charging will become much more transparent. Along every step of the process, clients will know what’s going on and what they’re going to pay. That should help increase trust between the client and the customer.
You can read more about the new rules for charging in Bureaucrats get it right for once!
Types of adviser
There’s a third change coming as well. It’s less important than the first two, but still interesting.
Going forward, there are going to be two kinds of adviser:
Independent Financial Adviser and Restricted Adviser.
An independent advisor can advise you across the board on all your financial issues. He can also recommend any product from any provider, and must give completely unbiased and unrestricted advice.
A restricted adviser may not be allowed to give you advice on all financial issues. What’s more, he may be tied to a restricted range of product providers. Any restricted adviser should explain his status from the beginning. Restricted advisers are still expected to be professional and must have Level 4 qualifications.
What about bank advisers?
If you visit a bank and ask to see a financial adviser, you’ll end up seeing a restricted adviser.
It’s also possible you’ll be offered an ‘information-only’ service by a member of the sales staff. In that case, the salesperson would take you through the details of the product. But he wouldn’t find out about your financial situation and wouldn’t officially recommend a product that was right for you and your circumstances.
It’s always best to take advice from a genuine adviser. If you’re in doubt, ask if the person is a true financial adviser with ‘Level 4’ qualifications.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all advisers will be perfect from January 2013 onwards. There is incompetence in every profession.
So if you think an adviser may be giving you bad advice, don’t ignore your doubts.
You should be especially nervous if the adviser is proposing a complex plan that you don’t fully understand. Simplicity is normally the best approach when it comes to money.
Also look at the charges you’ll be paying to the product provider. If you’re looking to start a pension or invest, it’s essential that you go for a product where the charges are low. Tell your adviser that low charges are a priority for you.
Risk is another important issue. Risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but remember that the older you get, the less risk you should take.
And don’t be afraid to read around – for instance on Lovemoney – and see if the advice makes sense. You could also visit another adviser for a second opinion.
But overall, I’m confident that more advisers are going to be giving good advice in the years ahead. 2013 will be a great year to really make a difference to your finances.
Check out our video: Should you go to a financial adviser?
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