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Financial Services Industry

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Many financial advice firms promote the benefit of offering a one-stop shop, where you can get all your financial advice in one place.

These firms tout the convenience of only having to deal with one firm and they claim you will get a better overall service if your accountant, estate planner and financial adviser all work for the same company.

While there may be some benefits to this model, I think there are elements of a one-stop service that can conflict with your best interests. I think potential conflicts need to be examined and considered whenever you receive advice from a bunch of specialists all working for the same company.

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Who's Really Paying Your Financial Adviser

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Despite a series of financial planning scandals over the last few years, the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry has shocked the country as it uncovers extraordinary levels of dishonesty and unethical conduct.

Many people are probably wondering if they should trust anyone in the financial services industry ever again.

If you’re one of those people, I understand how you feel.

To help you make sense of what’s been uncovered, over coming weeks, I’d like to break down some of the individual stories to help you understand what happened and how you might avoid similar problems.

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Photo by Ferdinand Stöhr on Unsplash

Recently, ASIC penalised super fund Spaceship for making false and misleading statements about its GrowthX fund.

ASIC took issue with Spaceship’s claim it was actively managing the portfolio and being selective in deciding which stocks to include and which to omit, based on profitability and product differentiation.

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If you read newspapers, you’re aware that the financial advice industry struggles to manage conflicts caused by ownership, targets and remuneration. Accountants, as a profession, have generally managed to avoid these conflicts by not providing financial advice to their clients. Instead, accountants refer clients to specialist advisers and mortgage brokers.

It seems like a good strategy. Is it really?

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Photo Credit: caseygoodness via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: caseygoodness

There are biases that affect the quality of advice we get every day of our lives. And not just financial advice.

When a real estate agent shows you houses for sale, they are working for the seller, not you. This affects which properties you are shown and your ability to negotiate the best price.

(This is why buyer’s advocates have become popular. As you are paying them to find your ideal property, your advocate’s interests are aligned with yours.)

In assessing the quality of any advice, it’s worth considering which party the seller is working for: you or the owner of the product.

There are other more subtle influences on the advice we get. While the medical profession manages potential conflicts by operating under a professional code of conduct, your GP may be influenced to prescribe some brands over others, due to a relationship with the pharmaceutical company (this could be done unconsciously…see below).

 

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Photo: James Alcock (http://www.smh.com.au/business/cba-chief-ian-narev-on-notice-over-compensation)

Photo: James Alcock (http://www.smh.com.au/business/cba-chief-ian-narev-on-notice-over-compensation)

On 3 July 2014, Ian Narev, the Chief Executive Officer for Commonwealth Bank, addressed a press conference to respond to the Senate Inquiry’s report on CBA financial planning scandal.  The scathing report was issued on 26 June 2014 after months of investigation and relentless coverage so the fact that it took a week for CBA to respond is, in itself, telling.

Click here to access the Senate report. And for a high level review of the more interesting aspectsread “Wading in the shallows: Advice, ASIC and Accountability”.

Mr Narev provided a superficial and perhaps unconvincing response to the report and at the heart of the CBA’s considered response was his proposal to commence a CBA-run review of all financial advice provided by CFP and Financial Wisdom over a 10-year period.

The public and media response to this proposal has been other than what Mr Narev might have anticipated. Industry insiders and affected clients remain skeptical of CBAs ability to properly review their own advice.

And for good reason.

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Photo Credit: smiscandlon

Have you ever thought about how much you’re really paying for the advice you got from your financial planner? The direct costs are one part – and I think you should look at those closely to ensure you’re getting value – but take a look at the indirect costs.

Keeping costs down are a key to wealth – high costs put your future at risk.

Some of the most significant costs are hidden in your portfolio and are caused by product selection and your advisor’s bias towards actively managed funds.

Although most financial advisors recommend actively managed funds, in reality, the net return of active funds are consistently below most passive investments or index funds.

But apart from the underperformance and additional cost of active funds, there is another cost, which is often overlooked when investors compare active and passive (index) fund portfolios – a cost I’ll cover later in this post.

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