There are several different types of financial advisers in the UK and, if you are currently looking for financial advice, it is important to you that you understand the main differences between them. Just as not all medical professionals are the same – there are paramedics, auxiliary nurses, nurses, GPs, registrars and consultants, for example – neither are all financial advisers the same!
Types of Financial Advisers
There are three main categories:
Tied advisers, who usually work for a bank or an insurance company. They are only authorised to advise you on their own company’s products;
Multi-tied advisers, who are able to offer advice from a limited set panel of companies;
Independent financial advisers (IFAs) who will offer you unbiased advice from the whole of the market.
The Importance of Independent Financial Advice
IFAs differ from tied and multi-tied advisers, not only because they offer whole of market advice, but also because they do not represent a company – they act as the representative of their client, and it is their primary responsibility to act in the best interest of their client at all times. IFAs must also offer clients the option to pay by fee, rather than commission from the product provider.
Once an IFA has carried out a detailed fact find with you, so that he (or she) can fully understand your current financial situation, as well as your financial needs and objectives, he will go away and do some research to find the most suitable financial products for you. He will then present his recommendations to you at a follow-up meeting.
Minimum qualifications: All advisers giving investment advice must have the minimum qualifications of the Certificate in Financial Planning (CertPFS) or its predecessor the Financial Planning Certificate (FPC) from the Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII), or the Certificate for Financial Advisers (CeFA) from the IFS School of Finance.
Higher qualifications: By the end of 2012 advisers who wish to continue to give investment advice must have achieved higher qualifications – either the Diploma in Financial Planning (DipPFS) from the CII, or the Diploma for Financial Advisers (DipFA) from the IFS. Roughly one third of all financial advisers in the UK are currently qualified to this level already. The others are studying hard!
Certified Financial Planner: This is an internationally recognised qualification for financial advisers all over the world. In the UK it is awarded by the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP). To become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) a financial adviser must first hold the DipPFS, or equivalent qualification, must have at least three years’ relevant financial services experience and must have worked on a case study to produce a detailed financial plan of a sufficiently high standard to be passed by the IFP examining board. They must be members of the IFP, abide by a strict code of ethics, and commit to continuing professional development (CPD).
Chartered Financial Planner: To become a Chartered Financial Planner – the pinnacle of the financial planning profession – an adviser must be a member of the Personal Finance Society (PFS), have a minimum of five years’ relevant experience and commit to continuing professional development. He or she also has to gain the CII Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning, which is the highest qualification currently awarded by the CII to financial advisers. The CII operates a points system for its Financial Services exams. For example you must achieve 70 points to be awarded the Certificate in Financial Planning and a further 70 points to be awarded the Diploma in Financial Planning, making a total of 140 points. However, to be awarded the Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning the candidate has to gain 290 points – more than four times the minimum requirement for financial advisers!
CFPs and Chartered Financial Planners are the elite of the financial planning profession. They have demonstrated, not only advanced technical knowledge and financial planning expertise, but also an exceptionally high level of commitment to their clients by the time and money they have spent in attaining their qualifications to enable them to give the highest level of advice.
Do financial advisers’ qualifications matter? Certainly there are many excellent advisers who do not have higher qualifications (yet). However, if you had a serious illness, you would expect your doctor to refer you to a highly qualified and experienced consultant would you not? CFPs and Chartered Financial Planners are like the consultants of the financial planning profession and the good news is that, unlike in the medical profession, you can consult them directly.