The penultimate chapter in The Financial Wellbeing Book is called Taking Advice Or Do It Yourself?

Now, you might think that, having been a financial planner for many years, I might be a little biased on this topic. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

The book advocates a ‘Know Thyself’ approach. Work out what makes you happy, then focus your spending and saving on those things. I feel the same way about engaging a financial adviser. Do what is right for you.

Take Advice or DIY?

I would suggest you are more likely to do it yourself if some or all of the following apply:

  • You have the time: both to understand the principles, and to carry out the tasks
  • You can’t afford a financial planner (or don’t want to)
  • You are building your assets and aren’t at the stage where a financial planner could add value
  • You are able to continually review the plan and your investments

Engaging a financial planner would be right for you if:

  • You don’t have the time (or inclination) to do it yourself
  • You can afford a financial planner
  • You need help with some of the technical aspects e.g. pension rules

Some parts of financial planning are easier than others. For example, if you are setting up some monthly savings into ISAs and want an idea of which funds to look at, there are plenty resources available to help with this – especially when combined with The Financial Wellbeing Book!

However, if you are approaching retirement and considering options for a large pension fund, or perhaps have several funds including guaranteed pension benefits, then taking advice is going to be pretty important.

What Type Of Adviser Do You Need?

There are many ways to receive financial advice. Whichever adviser you choose, make sure they are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). You can do this by checking the register at www.fca.org.uk. Some scammers claim to be regulated but they are not.

There are three stages to true financial planning, and these should be followed in order. Some firms will do one, some will do two and some will do all three of these.

These are, in order:

  1. Coaching – helping you to understand yourself by creating and discovering objectives
  2. Planning – mapping a path to those objectives
  3. Advising – using products to direct you along the path to your objectives

My firm, Ovation, follows a Coaching – Planning – Advice process (see the ‘Contact’ page).

What Does A Good Financial Adviser Firm Look Like?

The answer to this question can only come back to the same question – what sort of advice do you need?

If you have a limited budget and/or have only a need for a specific product (for example someone with young children wanting to take out life assurance), then one off product advice may be sufficient.

In this case the cost of the advice is going to be important. The adviser should make the costs clear at the outset, whether they are paid by commission or fee. Since 2013, they will only be able to take a commission for arranging insurance or mortgage products but that doesn’t stop you asking for a fee based service even for these areas. You may also want to check if they are able to recommend a product from the whole of the market or have a limited range of products from which to select.

If you require planning or coaching based advice, then your needs are likely to be both more complex, and ongoing.

When assessing firms to help you with financial planning you may wish to consider the following factors:

  • Do they offer a free initial meeting for you to decide if you want to use them (and for them to decide if they want to work with you)?
  • Are their charges clear and understandable? Price might not be the most important factor when selecting a firm to help you, but you should understand at an early stage what the costs are likely to be, typically after the initial telephone call or meeting.
  • Do they have a robust process for providing reviews (annual should suffice, possibly twice yearly if you feel it would add value)?
  • Do they have a broad range of technical knowledge? This does not have to be all from one individual. For example, some firms will have a pensions specialist, or may outsource such work.
  • If you require help in working out what your future might look like, do the advisers have training in coaching skills?
  • Do you like them?

Conclusion

Ultimately, I would suggest that if you can afford a financial planner then you’d be well ‘advised’ to do so in the vast majority of cases. Much like only a small percentile of people could fix their own car, very few people have the relevant knowledge and skills equivalent to that of a qualified Adviser.

However, not all financial planning firms are created equal! Not all firms apply coaching skills, for example, and this may be important as you cannot challenge your own beliefs.

Whichever method you decide works for you, be sure to do your research. It is, after all, your money.