If you have decided that you need some help with your expat financial planning, knowing where to begin to find a good expat adviser can be a daunting task.
There is no shortage of information available online, but the difficulty is, sometimes there’s just too damn much information.
Filtering through it all can be a tedious and time-consuming task to say the least.
And more often than not, you’ll come away feeling more confused than when you started.
Then there’s the actual prospect of meeting with an expat financial adviser for the first time, which might feel quite intimidating, particularly if you don’t have a great knowledge of finance and investing.
And let’s face it, why would you, unless you work in the finance industry or have a particular interest in investing?
I’m sure you have enough to keep you busy in your own line of work without having to burden yourself with the particulars of portfolio allocation.
But then again, you are reading this, so you must have a bit of time to kill! 😉
Then there’s that fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar.
You’re on their territory – it’s all shiny shoes, pin-striped suits and Mont Blanc pens. (A.k.a. keeping up appearances.)
They’re using buzzwords, acronyms and technical terms. It’s all language that is unfamiliar – either to dazzle or to bamboozle.
They put on a good show, but you wonder, do they really know what they are doing?
Are they going to rip you off?
Questions, questions and more questions . . .
You’re worried about doing the right thing.
And nobody likes to make mistakes with their money – it feels so embarrassing to know that someone has taken you for a ride.
Finding the right expat financial adviser can be something of a crapshoot, as my American friends might say.
But if you interview them correctly, you stand a much greater chance of sorting out the good eggs from the bad – as my British friends might say.
Don’t get me wrong – I am sure there are more good financial advisers out there than bad ones in the total global population of financial advisers.
(He says, optimistically – trying hard to convince himself.)
I can say with certainty, however, that there is a much higher proportion of advisers that are less likely to have your best interests at heart in the expat financial services sector.
And there is a simple reason for this: they operate in mostly unregulated jurisdictions and/or they sell mostly commission-based financial products.
Unfortunately, commission-based selling does not really sit well with impartial advice. How can it?
It’s common sense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again.
Everybody will have their own ideas about their perfect financial adviser and different adviser personalities will suit different clients.
That’s to be expected.
However, if you could write a list of the ideal, overarching traits and qualities that make a good expat financial adviser, what would it look like?
Well, mine would probably look something like this one:
1. Honest and ethical
Nobody cares about looking after your money more than you or perhaps your significant other, but the Number Two person on the list of people who care most about your money needs to be your adviser.
If the adviser responsible for looking after your money doesn’t care, they’ll be using it recklessly and greedily to make money for themselves. And this usually ends up in losses.
It goes without saying that you want an adviser who actually knows what he’s doing.
If you’re an expat in a country that doesn’t require financial advisers to hold qualifications, find one that has financial planning and/or investment management qualifications anyway.
He doesn’t need every qualification under the Sun, but you need to know he has some form of financial education, knowledge and competence.
3. Good communicator
A good expat financial adviser needs to use language you understand and should be able to explain everything clearly. If explanations are vague and salesy, the adviser probably doesn’t know what he’s doing.
4. Good listener
There’s an old saying that we were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason and that reason is, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Listening is a crucial element in communication that people often forget – especially those trying to sell you their crappy financial products.
A good adviser should listen carefully in order to understand your needs properly, clarify his understanding and then find appropriate and timely solutions.
5. Delivers on promises
He doesn’t promise the Earth, but always delivers on what he promises.
If your adviser lets you down, let him go.
6. Remembers your birthday
He doesn’t actually have to remember your birthday, but the point is, an adviser who doesn’t know stuff about you that is not directly related to your finances does not have a real relationship with you.
Your kids’ names, your interests, where you’re going on holiday – you could say it’s all irrelevant and incidental, but actually, taking an interest in you shows he cares about you not just as a client, but as a person.
The other possibility is that he could be a stalker.
7. Provides beer/champagne . . .
The expat adviser that can do all of the above and go the extra mile is a keeper! 🙂
But seriously, if you can cover the first five of these, you’re golden.
And if you happen to meet one that provides burlesque dancing, let me know, as that’s some tweet-worthy stuff right there.
Some Thoughts About Honesty & Trust
In my opinion, the most important trait is honesty. You’ve got to be able to trust that the adviser is honest.
This should be a given, but it’s not. I’ve seen more than my fair share of dishonest people in this industry.
Being able to trust that they are honest and have your interests at heart is crucial.
I saw a business tip online the other day that had been posted by a recruitment professional. It said:
“Never hire anyone you wouldn’t trust with the keys to your house.”
For a second, I nearly pulled the lever to that imaginary trap door in my mind.
It’s the one that leads to a dark, bottomless pit where I relegate other glib, infuriating and mostly patronising sound bites from LinkedIn ‘business gurus’ and the like.
I dismissed it, thinking that it would be almost impossible to know if you could trust someone – a stranger, no less – with the keys to your house, purely after reading their CV and interviewing them over a couple of meetings, as you would in the normal recruitment process.
Surely, it takes time to earn trust?
Sheesh, another piece of lame, stupid advice, I thought.
But then I stopped myself and considered the nature of trust.
(Yes, I had bit of time on my hands.)
People often talk about ‘earning’ someone else’s trust, as if your actions can automatically result in a ‘payment’ of their trust.
But actually, trust can’t be earned.
It can only be given.
Doing the right thing, like being honest, trustworthy and reliable might make it easier for someone else to grant you trust.
If you want to trust someone else, then you are responsible for granting that trust.
Of course, some people are naturally more trusting than others.
Granting trust in someone requires the belief that they are honest and if an adviser is honest (and competent), then you shouldn’t have to ever worry about questions such as:
- Has the adviser really found the best solution for me?
- Have all the fees been disclosed (not just selectively)?
- Does he have the qualifications he claims to have?
- Is my portfolio being managed effectively and in line with my agreed risk profile?
I don’t want to give the impression that I think all financial advisers are liars.
But the reality is that some are.
And I don’t believe those advisers will necessarily tell you an outright lie, but both lies of omission or being “economical with the truth” are a common tactic, sadly.
The most valuable commodity I have in my business is my reputation and that reputation comes from the trust granted to me by my clients – whether that was something that happened at the first meeting or over several years.
I am trusted by my clients, because they know that I have their interests at heart and I am not going to gamble with their money to make a quick buck for myself.
Unfortunately, the biggest side of the trust equation falls on the one granting it. After all, if you are putting your trust in someone, by definition, it is usually you that has more to lose.
So, I’m digressing a little here, but the point of this post is to provide you with some good questions that will help you to make a decision about whether or not you can trust the adviser you’re either currently working with or considering working with and to help you make sure that it is “eyes-wide-open trust”, rather than “blind trust”.
Questions to ask a financial adviser
Before I get into the questions, I want to make the point that the guys that are just out to make commissions from you will be able to blag their way through some of these questions.
But you’ll find that these are not questions they get posed often, because they have been trained to control the meeting and direct it in a way that suits them.
Their sales pitches are designed to address the most common questions and ‘nip them in the bud’, so that they don’t become barriers to closing in the final part of the meeting.
Of course, people can always lie when it comes to answering questions, but I think the questions I have set out below will help you make a better assessment of who you are dealing with.
Why did you become an adviser?
Many are in it for the money, but of course, they are going say that they do it because they like helping people!
Here, you’re trying to get an idea of what motivates them as this will reflect the level of client service they provide. You may or may not get a sincere answer to this, but it will be up to you to judge.
How do you get paid?
I have covered this before in other posts and I am sure this will not be last time I mention it either! The reason being, it is important.
How the adviser gets paid affects the type of recommendation you receive and often, the level of service you receive after you have set up your account.
Commission-based advisers can’t really offer unbiased advice and there is a clear conflict of interest.
Hire an adviser, not a product salesman.
If you are ok with him earning a commission from the products he recommends, the next question would be, “Are you willing to disclose the commissions you receive?”
And if you are comfortable with the answer, then by all means, proceed.
Read this post to understand more about about how financial advisers get paid.
What services are included if I become a client?
Ultimately, client serving is everything.
You need to be clear on the following:
- How will the relationship work?
- Is communication and advice pro-active or will they wait for you to contact them?
- How much contact will you get from your adviser?
- How often do you receive reviews?
- Which method of communication is used? Face-to-face, video-conferencing, telephone or Whatsapp? Can they adapt to your requirements?
- What are the parameters of the financial advice given?
For example, some financial services firms offer holistic planning, which also covers more specialised areas such as tax planning and estate planning.
Some just sell a handle full of products.
Others are essentially just execution-only brokers.
Whatever the promised or agreed servicing level is, get something in writing from the outset.
Good advisers should have some form of servicing level agreement and you should hold them to it.
You don’t want to end up like this poor guy.
What qualifies you to provide financial advice?
Qualification and education requirements to be a financial planner or wealth manager vary from country to country.
The UK, for example, has increasingly high minimum requirements to operate as an adviser, but some countries require no formal qualifications at all – especially when the advice is for expats.
So be careful here and ask what certifications, qualifications and experience they have to their name.
In the expat world, it’s common for the people that are supposedly giving you advice to have no financial planning or investment qualifications at all.
That being said, qualifications do not guarantee the adviser is ethical and honest and that they will be putting your needs first.
Some of the most dishonest, unscrupulous, money-grabbing advisers I have ever had the misfortune to meet had valid qualifications from their home countries, but I wouldn’t have trusted them with my money any further than I could have thrown them.
Having qualifications does, however, offer peace of mind that they know something about what they’re doing.
And the fact that they have invested their own time, effort and money to complete qualifications says a lot about how serious they are too.
Where do you invest your own money?
This can be a useful question, but you need to bear in mind that everybody has different financial planning needs and will be at different points in their financial planning life cycle, so the answer you get might be different to what is recommended to you.
However, if the adviser invests using the products he recommends, this is not a bad sign.
If he doesn’t use one of the products he sells, you might want to ask why it’s good enough for you but not for him.
How would the investment fit into my overall plan?
An adviser should not just be looking at how much money you have to invest in order to find a home for it.
A good financial planner should do a comprehensive ‘fact find’ to see how the investment fits in with your overall needs, wants and capacity for investing.
I once sat down with a potential client who was very clear that he wanted to start investing a certain amount of money each month, but when we looked at his situation properly, I discovered he had numerous consumer debts and bank loans that needed to be addressed before we could even think of entertaining the idea of investments.
Accepting a client’s money to invest without at least having some idea of the income and out-goings, or turning a blind eye to the fact he has other more immediate financial obligations would be irresponsible and will almost certainly be doing the client a dis-service.
Do you have a sales quota?
This usually applies to commission-based advisers.
Having to hit targets causes conflicts of interest, which means that recommendations you receive will be influenced by whether or not the adviser can hit his numbers this month.
You’re there for advice to provide solutions to your financial needs, not his.
Can you refer me to an existing client?
This is an important one.
If you can’t get a few testimonials from long-standing clients, unless it’s a new adviser, that’s a red flag.
Okay, I know a lot of people don’t like to give recommendations to anyone, but if the adviser can’t put you in touch with at least half a dozen happy clients, it’s going make you wonder.
Other Points To Consider
Below are a few additional general points to consider when thinking about hiring a financial adviser.
Organisations are not always better than individuals
Big firms that use model portfolios and automated processes can be efficient, but impersonal. Communication can often be less efficient than desired, since you are just a small fish in a big pond.
Working for a big firm does not necessarily mean the adviser is honest and competent.
Having a flashy office does not necessarily mean the adviser is honest and competent. It probably just means he is good at selling commission-paying products to people.
Think about who really pays for that flashy office.
Think globally, not locally
Technological advances over the last few years mean that communication and account management is easier than ever. You don’t have to rely on using whatever resources are available to you locally.
If you live in Dubai, but your adviser is based in Malaysia, it shouldn’t be a barrier.
I personally have many clients that I have never even met in the flesh and we are located on separate continents. However, I communicate with them just as often as I do with clients that are living locally to me – possibly more often.
If an adviser is operating in a regulated jurisdiction, it does not necessarily mean that he is honest and ethical.
Similarly, advisers operating in a non-regulated jurisdiction are not all dishonest and unethical. People are people and there are both good and bad everywhere.
Whether or not you choose to trust them is mostly a judgment call on your part and this is where speaking with a number of existing clients can help.
Good bloke ≠ good adviser
It is important that you get along with your adviser, but, just because he’s a good bloke doesn’t mean he’s a good adviser.
Equally, boring or blunt does not mean incompetent or uncaring.
Obviously, nobody wants to work with a complete a-hole though.
Either way, you need to assess your potential adviser objectively on his competency and back that up with some confirmation from existing clients, so don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials and some client contact details.
Sales pressure tactics
If you don’t do it now, it will be too late!!!!
Don’t fall for old school sales pressure tactics. They’re so tacky and almost always only in the interest of those using them!
Yes, you probably do need to take action to start your investments as early as possible, because you’ve been putting it off for years already, but that is your decision to make and if the adviser is hounding you to get you to sign on the dotted line, it means he needs the business to happen more than you do. And that, my friend, gets a red flag.
In this situation, it might be wise to seek advice from elsewhere.
The bottom line:
Ask questions and keep asking them until you get a clear answer that you are satisfied with.
Don’t rush into anything, don’t be pressured into anything and work with an adviser you feel comfortable with.