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Oh my hat, do I really need a financial advisor?

Is it not enough to google like crazy and learn that way?

CAPE TOWN: For a long time I had a deep distrust of any kind of financial advisor, associating them with several ill-advised and costly investments made back in my twenties and thirties.

So I did my own research, invested in a retirement scheme without the benefit of a broker; started a savings plan and began building a small portfolio of shares which I manage myself.

I was pleased with myself. Then this year our friendly taxman lobbed a R25 000 tax penalty at me. Suddenly I had a different view on advisors and scrambled for a tax consultant. Needless to say he was worth every cent. I was even able to get the better part of the penalty back – to my advisor’s surprise, I might add.

So then I wondered, if I could mess up my simple tax that badly, perhaps I could mess up my financial planning too. Hmmm. Do we really need financial advisors? Is it not enough to google like crazy and learn that way? I wasn’t sure any more. And assuming I did need an advisor, how on earth would I find someone independent and trustworthy? Because now I’m starting to think that finding a good financial advisor might be more important than finding a good husband.

So I chatted to some advisors for their views. Rita Cool is a financial consultant with Alexander Forbes; Gavin Gehlig is co-founder of CGN Wealth and Warren Ingram is co-founder of Galileo Capital who has coincidentally written a book entitled ‘Become Your Own Financial Advisor’. All are certified financial planners.

Of course asking a financial consultant if one really needs a financial advisor is like Little Red Riding Hood asking the wolf if he is hungry. But let’s face it, when the wolf answered yes, he was telling the truth.

So it was not surprising that all three advisors agreed that most people – note, not all – would be financially better off had the enlisted the services of an advisor early on in life. They also agree that the internet is a useful resource, specifically when you are looking for targeted information.

What the internet lacks is the ability to take all the information and compile it into a holistic plan. “Advisors add value by helping you get from where you are now to where you want to be – financially that is,” says Cool. “They help you quantify and qualify your goals and will devise a personal, step-by-step plan to get there. They are also aware of things the ordinary person may not be – changes in regulation or which product is more or less suitable in different circumstances. So many people become paralysed by the amount of information available that good intentions remain just that.”

Even financial advisors have their own financial advisors Ingram says. “It is difficult to be knowledgeable about all aspects of your finances. For instance, I pay someone to do my tax and update my will even though I am in the industry.”

So how on earth do you find an advisor? Everyone says ‘by word of mouth’, but it doesn’t help if your friends don’t have someone either. It also doesn’t help if their trusted advisor turns out to be less than kosher, as investors in Herman Pretorius’s Real Value Arbitrage Fund discovered.

As a general rule it is advisable to seek out advisors with a professional qualification. This means they need to be a CFP® professional and you can find a list of them in your area from the Financial Planning Institute’s website Another general rule is to focus on advisors who work for independent companies rather than those who work for a product provider or a bank.

Of course their advice comes at a price. I used to struggle with this idea because in my experience product advice was ‘free’. But when I noticed that commissions (paid to the agent who sold the product) were eating up my returns I learned that ‘free’ also has a price.

“A great financial planner can make an enormous difference to your life while a bad advisor can set you back very badly,” says Ingram. “So you should choose your advisor very carefully and not necessarily focus on the cheapest.” Would you choose the cheapest bridge-building engineer or the cheapest doctor, or would you pay for the best you could afford? “I think the same applies to your money.”

Most advisors still earn an income from product commissions. “This is fine,” says Cool, “but clients should always be informed of the commission component charged on a product.” She notes that the commission-based structure is slowly changing towards a fee structure where a client pays a set fee for a specific service.

Some planners work on an hourly rate which varies from R700 all the way up to R2500, depending on complexity. Others prefer to charge a flat rate for the plan itself. “This way the potential client is aware of the cost upfront. I would charge R3000 (vat inclusive) for a retirement and estate plan which could include creating or updating a client’s last will and testament,” Gehlig says.

Younger clients when starting out won’t be earning a fortune and will still be in the build up phase of their lives and probably change jobs a few times prior to settling and finding their niche. “As a planner your services for a client earning R10 000 per month would be different to a client earning R100 000 per month but each client deserves to be treated identically,” he says.

It’s a good idea to check if there is a fee for the initial advice consultation.  In many offices there is no fee for an initial consultation and fees are only charged if and when a product is set up.

That is a good enough reason to just give it a try. 


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