7 questions to help you find the right financial adviser in 2021
Updated: Nov 9
Choosing the right financial adviser to help with your retirement planning is one of the most important decisions you will make. However, with around 27,500 regulated financial advisers in the UK with various job titles, narrowing the search to find the right one can seem daunting.
Below I share the best questions to ask a financial adviser in 2021.
1. Who do you specialise in working with?
This question is the most important to ask if you are planning for retirement. Does the financial adviser specialise in retirement planning, or do they offer general financial advice, taking on all clients irrespective of their requirements? If they are generalist financial advisers, will they really provide the same service as someone who deals with clients planning for retirement daily?
To use a medical analogy, if you require heart surgery, will you get the best outcome working with a cardiac surgeon or a General Practitioner (GP)?
Nobel Prize-winning professor William Sharpe described retirement income planning as the 'nastiest, hardest problem in finance' which he describes below.
'The only way you can look at the retirement problem is through probability. You can’t look at it not with probability. Everywhere you turn there are probabilities: of inflation, of market performance, or mortality. It’s true that you don’t know the range of possible outcomes for next year, let alone 40 years from now. But you try to come up with the most credible set of probabilities that you can.'
We would be the first to tell you that nothing in the investing world is certain. However, we are confident that by engaging with a retirement planning specialist that:
follows a clearly defined process (detailed in 5. Can you describe your retirement planning process in detail?)
uses best of breed retirement planning tools
you will put yourself in the best position to have a successful outcome.
Easiest ways to check if the financial adviser you are speaking to is a retirement planning specialist?
1. Check their website! Is the website wording and offering targeted towards those seeking retirement? For example, the Pyrford Financial Planning website makes it very clear who we work with.
2. Call them!
Most financial advisers will gladly give up fifteen minutes of their day for an introductory phone call to see if they are a good fit for your needs. Some questions for you to consider asking include:
What clients do you specialise in working with?
What benefits can you bring to help a client plan their retirement?
How would you help me manage my retirement income to have the best chance of not running out of money in retirement?
How would you determine my safe withdrawal rate?
2. Are you Independent or Restricted?
It is essential to understand what financial products and providers the financial adviser you are considering can recommend.
Independent Financial Adviser
According to the FCA, an independent financial adviser:
'can consider and recommend a wide range of retail investment products that could meet your needs and objectives. Independent advisers will also consider products from a wide range of firms across the market, and will give unbiased and unrestricted advice. An independent adviser may also be called an 'independent financial adviser' or 'IFA'.'
Restricted financial adviser
There are effectively two types of restricted financial advisers:
1. One that offers a subset of available financial products in the marketplace. For example, they might not advise on Venture Capital Trusts (VCT). But within this subset, they still consider a wide range of financial providers. Firms operating in this mode may be known as restricted whole-of-market.
2. One that offers a wide range of financial products but does not consider a wide range of providers for these financial products. These are known as restricted.
The FCA has the following to say:
'A restricted adviser or firm can only recommend certain products, product providers, or both.
The adviser or firm must clearly explain the nature of the restriction. If you are not sure about the offer you should ask for more information.
Some examples of restricted advice are where:
the adviser works with one product provider and only considers products from that company;
the adviser considers products from a limited range of product providers;
the adviser is unable to review existing products that you may already have in place.
Restricted advisers and firms cannot describe the advice they offer as 'independent'.'
Paul Lewis of Radio 4’s MoneyBox says:
''If you ask 'do you offer independent financial advice' and the answer is anything but a clear 'yes' then reject them. Many work for a bank or insurance company and of course only recommend you buy their products. That is just sales masquerading as advice.”
MoneySavingExpert echoes this view:
“If you're using an adviser, always, always make sure it's an independent financial adviser.”
3. How many clients do you have?
There is no doubt that technology is helping financial advisers to do their job more efficiently. The right financial planning tools save a lot of time. Couple that with more online meetings taking place, and you can see where time savings can be made. That said, I believe that it is challenging to support a meaningful financial planning relationship with more than 100 – 150 clients. Considering the client meetings, preparation for these meetings and the ongoing financial planning relationship, it is easy to see how the time can be used up.
Further questions to ask:
How many clients do you look after?
What is the scale, scope, and frequency of your interaction with your clients?
4. How do you charge for your services?
I recently covered financial adviser charging structures in 'How much does a financial adviser cost for retirement planning (and am I getting good value)?' It's fair to say that it's sometimes difficult to work out how much you are paying, but given the impact of fees on retirement income sustainability, it's something you need to understand fully.
Further questions to ask:
Can you give me a breakdown of total fees for both initial and ongoing financial advice in pounds and pence?
How much goes to each part of the chain for these fees, and how do you justify these?
Fund manager transaction costs
Discretionary Investment Manager (where appropriate)
How will your fees impact how long my retirement investments last?
Do you charge exit fees?
Do you get paid for giving me financial advice even if I do not proceed with your recommendation?
How much will a client typically pay relative to me if they have half/twice what I have invested?
5. Can you describe your retirement planning process in detail, and what are your specific retirement planning qualifications?
One of the benefits of working with just those planning for retirement is that you can develop and implement an efficient retirement planning process. We believe there are five key stages of planning for a successful retirement, and it's essential that you understand what the financial adviser you are speaking with is offering.
Further questions to ask:
Can you describe the stages of your retirement planning process and how much time/effort is typically spent on each stage?
Can you provide me with a document describing the retirement planning process in detail?
How do you ensure the financial plan is robust? Is there a degree of iteration, and what 'what-if scenarios' do you typically create.
What software do you use to make your job easier?
What retirement planning qualifications/expertise do you have? An example of a relevant qualification is Retirement Income Planning (AF8). This qualification is offered by the CII and is considered a degree-level qualification.
6. What is your investment philosophy?
It is key to understand the investment philosophy that the financial adviser you are thinking of working with follows. A summary of Pyrford Financial Planning's investment philosophy is detailed below:
Asset allocation is the primary driver of investment returns.
Diversification, both in terms of asset class and geography, is important.
Markets are broadly efficient.
Risk and returns are inextricably linked.
Alternative assets such as commodities and Private Equity etc., add little value to a portfolio.
We select assets that perform well in all stages of the market cycle.
Periodic rebalancing keeps the overall portfolio risk in line with the risk required to deliver the financial plan.
Simple is often better when it comes to portfolio construction.
We select only liquid assets in our portfolios.
Further questions to ask:
How does your investment philosophy align with your retirement planning process?
Do you use low-cost index funds?
Will you create a portfolio that will outperform the market? If the financial adviser answers yes, you might want to dig a little deeper, considering what their investment managers will be competing against.
Do you have an investment committee, and can you describe how they work?
Do you invest your personal money in exactly the same way as you are recommending to me? If the answer is no, it's worth finding out why.
7. What happens if you get run over/what are your retirement plans
You should plan to work with the same financial adviser for many years as they help guide you through retirement. However, there is always the chance that the financial adviser you are considering working with may unexpectedly not be able to work or decide to retire. This may be fine if you are working with a firm of many financial advisers (and you can find someone else in the firm you are happy working with), but less so if you are working with a 'one-man band'.
Further questions to ask:
How many financial advisers does your firm have? If the financial adviser is a sole adviser, it's worth understanding what locum arrangement is in place.
How many years do you plan to do this for? When you finish working, will you sell the business, and what will happen to your clients?
When meeting a financial adviser for an initial meeting, don't be afraid to ask tough questions. You will be working with the adviser for many years and will be paying them fees. A good financial adviser will welcome any questions you have.
If you are planning for retirement and want to discover more about our retirement planning service, please get in touch.
Noel Watson and the team at Pyrford Financial Planning are Independent Financial Advisers based in Weybridge, Surrey. We specialise in retirement planning and provide pension advice, investment advice and inheritance tax advice.
Our office telephone number is 01932 645150.
Our office address is Wellington Way, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 0TT
Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.
Although best efforts are made to ensure all information is accurate, you should not rely on this blog for your personal situation or planning.
The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.