The Theatre Of Expat Financial Advisers

Or “Why Financial Advisers Wear Three-Piece, Pinstripe Suits”

I’m sure you have heard the expression, “Fake it Till You Make It”.

It’s a kind of a belief that if you imitate confidence, competence and success, you will realise those qualities in real life.

Not a bad philosophy per se and I am a big believer in visualisation and the power of the mind.

But the problem is, many offshore “Independent Financial Advisers” (IFAs) have completely distorted it.

They put on their dark, pinstripe, three-piece suits and maybe place a neatly-folded little pocket square and a Mont Blanc pen in the breast pocket.

They shine their fancy loafers until they can see their own faces in them and they head over to their swanky offices, ready to spout the sales pitches they have so studiously committed to memory in order to corner some “fresh-off-the-boat” expat into signing up for a 25-year contractual savings plan of $1,500 per month, which is neither in line with their financial planning requirements, nor affordable beyond their short two-year expat contract.

(Wow, that was long sentence.)

But these ‘advisers’ don’t care much about your situation because they’re too busy mentally counting the huge stack of upfront commission they’re going to be making off the back of your ‘error in judgment’ based on the way they present themselves.

“We are the financial experts.”

“We can make you rich.”

“We’re wearing pinstripe, three-piece suits and everything, so we’re just like those high-flying Wall Street bankers. We must be the real deal, right?”

Erm . . .

Generally, no.

I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but all too often in the offshore financial services sector, this is all just theatre without much substance backstage.

And, along with the fancy offices, the suits are part of the act.

It’s smoke and mirrors.

Sleight of hand.

It’s like a magic show!

Theatre of financial advice - Magician's hat
Talking out of their hats. (Image by Hawksky from Pixabay.)

In theatrical magic, they actually call it the art of misdirection.

Only in this scenario, instead pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re usually pulling promises out of their backsides and the wool over your eyes, because they don’t really have a clue about financial planning or portfolio management.

And they don’t want to let you see that.

They’re trying to hide some ugly truths about the offshore financial services industry.

As an aside and talking of magic, I once knew a financial product salesman who, when asked what he did for a living, used to arrogantly reply that he was a magician “because he could turn your money into more money.”

Pur-lease! How pretentious can you get?

In reality, the only magic he could consistently do well was to make big chunks of your money disappear.

Anyway, I digress . . .

Mostly, these guys are just regurgitating a very slick, well-rehearsed sales pitch to make it sound like they know what they are doing.

And of course, when you are performing in a theatre and reading your lines, you need a costume to add that authenticity, so the audience believes in you and gets sucked in to the whole performance.

Hence the three-piece suits.

I mean, it’s not always actually a pinstripe, three-piece, but there is definitely a kind of dress code associated with this profession that is designed purely to project authority, competence and success.

There are numerous sales professionals who talk about the importance of ‘looking the part’ in order to be taken seriously.

And how you look is, indeed, very important. Whether you care to admit it or not, we all judge people on their appearances to some extent – at least initially.

Visual and contextual clues provided by the adviser’s appearance and also the environment in which they operate (think: nice reception, plush offices, good coffee) sends incredibly powerful psychological signals to the client that can influence their impression of how knowledgeable, competent and professional that adviser appears.

And so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking the part if you are competent, if you are qualified, if you genuinely feel a fiduciary responsibility toward your clients, if you are ethical and if you know or have access to someone who actually understands how to construct a portfolio that matches someone’s financial needs and agreed risk profile.

Without all those bits, you’re really just a salesman in a three-piece suit, aren’t you?

Again nothing wrong with being a salesman – or wearing pinstripe, three-piece suits, for that matter.

But don’t think that just by simply dressing the part that it gives you the right to call yourself a Wealth Manager or an Independent Financial Adviser.

Wolf in sheep's clothing
The wolf in sheep’s clothing. (Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay.)

Don’t pretend to be something you’re not and have others put their faith in you to look after their money when you have no business doing so.

Otherwise, you’re just like one of those guys you hear about in the news occasionally that get busted for wandering around a hospital in a white coat with a stethoscope draped over their shoulders pretending to be a doctor.

The signals being sent are not genuine.

It’s the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing and it’s downright deceitful.

So, some financial advisers wear three-piece suits, because they are trying to distract you from their shortfalls, their incompetence and the fact that often, they have no right to be offering ‘independent’ advice.

Because that independence goes straight out of the window as soon as you learn they are either promoting products that pay upfront, indemnified commissions or using their own in-house fund platforms, which ultimately have high on-going costs and lack transparency.

Related post: How Are Financial Advisers Paid?

All of which is detrimental to the client.

So, come on people, let’s not fall for the theatre anymore.

Don’t assume that if the guy in front of you is wearing a pinstripe suit, three-piece or otherwise, that he automatically knows finance and can (and will) manage your money well.

Remember, anyone can put on a suit and tie and deliver a sales script.

There are some great advisers who both do and don’t wear suits, but don’t just rely on the (admittedly, very powerful) “contextual clues” of appearance and environment when assessing the ability of that adviser.

Instead, make sure you ask the right questions and just be aware of the theatre of a meeting with an expat financial adviser and take it into consideration before making any decisions.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to use the comments section below or contact me directly.

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