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What to expect from your first meeting with a financial adviser

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07/03/2014
First impressions count. But when it comes to your financial adviser - the person you have chosen to help you save and grow your money - they are everything.

This individual could help you buy a new house, send your kids to university, ensure you have a comfortable retirement or guarantee your partner has enough money to survive on after you’re gone.

For these reasons, the first meeting with your adviser should fill you with confidence and leave you satisfied they have your best interests at heart.

To help you prepare for your first encounter, we have put together a checklist of what you should expect.

When you leave the meeting you should…

• Fully understand what your adviser can and can’t do

As part of the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) which came into force in January last year, the regulator introduced new labels to make clear the scope of advice an adviser can offer to consumers.

Firms classifying themselves as ‘independent’ can recommend products from the whole of market, while ‘restricted’ advisers are tied to a select list of products or specialise in one area of advice such as ethical investments.

Your adviser should make clear from the outset which category they fall into.

Remember, ‘independent’ isn’t necessarily the better option. If you are only interested in ethical products, for example, you wouldn’t need your adviser to scour the entire market for products.

You should also check that your adviser is fully qualified. Since the RDR changes came in, financial advisers have to be qualified to Level 4 or above, which is about the same as completing the first year of a university degree.

• Feel like you have been listened to, not talked at

Your adviser should spend more time listening to your problems, concerns and questions rather than reel off streams of information.

“Our service offerings are so wide and so diverse that the last thing I want to do is start trying to sell a service or talk about how well we do one thing. Almost certainly that is not what the client is there to discuss,” says Simon Webster, managing director of Kent-based adviser firm, Facts & Figures.

“My opening question is therefore always ‘what needs to happen in the next 30 minutes for you to consider this to have been time well spent/ a productive meeting?’ I then sit quietly and listen,” he says.

Craig Palfrey, a financial planner at Penguin Wealth, suggests the client should talk for 80% of the meeting or more, and the adviser should say very little.

“We have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion at least. Lots of people come to talk about one issue – such as their pension – but actually want someone to listen to their problems across the board when you ask the right questions,” he says.

Palfrey sends a document to clients for them to complete and return. This allows him to gather data in advance to ensure the meeting is focused purely on their needs and what they want to get from the meeting and saves the planner wasting time asking basic questions such as date of birth or national insurance number.

• Understand how the relationship is going to work

Before the meeting, it is useful to have a think about how you want to interact with your adviser. Do you expect regular one-to-one meetings or would you be happy with a phone or email-based relationship?

“I allow the client to describe what they expect and desire from their financial planner relationship and how they want service to be delivered,” says Mike Horseman of Cockburn Lucas, a Nottingham-based firm.

“Taking a client on is a commitment for both sides and needs to be matched to the practice offering.”

• Be able to trust your adviser

Obviously, it is hard to establish trust after just one consultation so you should come away from the meeting having asked as many questions as possible.

“It is right and appropriate clients ask questions about qualifications, experience and about the firm’s approach. The client should ask for testimonials or for case studies,” says Palfrey.

“They must be wary of anyone who blinds them with science. Personal financial planning is not that complex and they should be able to understand everything.

“People going to a first meeting should be wary, in our view, of style over substance issues. They should also be wary of anyone who promises great returns or fancy investment schemes. If something looks too good to be true, it will be.”

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