The short answer is to use an Independent Financial Advisor, investigate them thoroughly and make sure you understand any product you buy.
However many people are unsure exactly what is a Independent Financial Advisor or IFA so I will explain the types of Financial Advisor, how an Independent Financial Advisor is different from the other types of advisor and their obligations to a client.
What is a Independent Financial Advisor?
An Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) provides financial planning, offers unbiased advice and recommends suitable financial products from the entire UK market.
All IFAs are regulated by The Financial Service Authority (FSA) which requires them to hold strict qualifications and show a high level of competence.
The term Independent Financial Advisordates from 1988 when the UK government introduced a polarisation regime where an Advisor was either tied to a single insurer or was an independent practitioner.
Since 2005 the UK market has been depolarised. There are now four type of Advisor.
- Independent financial Advisors who work with products from the whole of the financial market and allow their customers the option of paying by fee or commission.
- Whole of market Advisors, who work with one company but only on a commission basis.
- Multi tied – work for more then one financial organisation.
- Tied – work for one organisation, typically a high street bank.
When Choosing a Financial Advisor ask whether he or she is independent, multi-tied or tied.
What qualifications does a Independent Financial Advisor need?
There are no set entry requirements for becoming a financial Advisor. Many employers consider a strong background in sales, financial services or customer service to be more important than formal qualifications. However for a person to be allowed to practise as an Independent Financial Advisor the Financial Services Authority (FSA), requires the following qualifications.
The entry level qualifications are the
- Financial Planning Certificate
- Certificate in Financial Planning (CertPFS
Both are issued by Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and are about equivalent to a challenging GCSE. Treat them accordingly.
The most common advanced qualifications are
- Advanced Financial Planning Certificate (AFPC)
- Certified Financial Planner licence.
IFAs with higher level professional qualifications may have the letters APFS or FPFS after their names.
What about high level professional qualifications?
The highest professional status for a IFA is a Chartered Financial Planner which was recently introduced.
In addition to these qualifications the FSA requires all IFA to undergo Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to keep upto date with developments in the profession.
Throughout their career an IFA may take many advanced and more specialised qualifications to develop specific areas of expertise. You should ask your IFA about them because he or she will gain the more advanced qualifications as their career progresses making qualifications a useful benchmark of an Advisor’s specific expertise and experience.
How are Independent Financial Advisors paid?
The vast majority of IFAs are paid by commission either in full or in part. The obvious problem with this is that the product offering the best commission may not be the best product for your interests.
The FSA recognised that this might be a problem and since depolorisation of the market in 2005 has required a financial advisor to provide clients the choice of either paying commission or a fee for advice. Despite the conflict of interest, consumers have been reluctant to pay for something they see that they already get for free.
Today there are three main ways an IFA receives payment.
- Commission: Typically the advice of the IFA is paid for by a commission from the product provider. The size of the payment must be made known to the client. It is possible to obtain a rebate of part of an IFAs commission in some circumstances, most commonly in Execution-Only cases. The size of commission and whether it is included in the price of the investment or deducted from the amount you invest depends on the product. This is not free advice. The client pays for the commission in the cost of the product.
- Fees: Offered by all IFAs, this can be cheaper than paying commission if the product is large, complex or specialist. Paying a fee for advice removes any incentive for an IFA to recommend a wrong product. This makes it a good way to ensure that the advice is impartial.
- Combination: It is possible use a combination commission and fees. The IFA will refund part of the advice fee when a product is bought..
It is usually easy to find the cheapest option for each investment because the FSA require that the size and type of any payment to an IFA are made known to a client.
What are an Independent Financial Advisors obligations to a client?
FA are obliged by the FSA to provide the most suitable advice for your particular personal objectives, situation, requirements and appetite for risk.
To do this they usually conduct a “factfind” of a your financial position , preferences and objectives. It is important to be frank and open about your financial situation during this process. This is much easier if you have a personal rapport with your IFA. Using a well planned system for Choosing a Suitable Financial Advisor help make this more likely. Once the fact-find is done they are able to advise the most appropriate action need to meet the objectives and possibly recommend a financial product.
The FSA requires every IFA to tell you about the service they’re offering and provide you a “Keyfacts- about our services” document. Insurance brokers may give you this information in another format. The document describes
- the service on offer;
- whose products they choose from; and
- whether you’ll have to pay a fee for the service or if they’ll get paid by commission on what they sell you.
“This document is important – it can help you shop around and compare services, product ranges and costs, so make sure you are given one and if you’re not, ask for one.”
How to go about Finding a Financial Advisor
You can ask family of friends for a recomendation of someone they trust. Alternatively you can ask another professional you have experience of dealing with for a refferal. Professionals tend to know other profesionals and a have an opinon about them.
You can investigate any IFAs before doing business with them. Check that the firm is on the FSA Central Register and is allowed to give financial advice, .
- The Central Register is available on the FSA website at
- You can also make checks over the phone on 0845 606 1234.
Although the UK consumer financial market is among the most heavily regulated and thus the safest in the world, It is your responsibility to understand the terms on which you do business.
You can avoid many of the most common pitfalls by following these steps.
- Only use an independent financial advisor listed on the Central Register
- Choose an IFA you feel comfortable with.
- Ask them about their qualifications and specialist areas expertise and choose on suitable to meet your goals.
- Investigate whether you are better paying a fee rather then a commission.
- Before purchasing a product or signing anything you must make sure you understand what you are being told.
- Read the “key facts” documentation they will provide you. If they dont provide this, ask for it.
- If you are unsure about something clarify it.