The personal touch

The personal touch

Financial planning has come a long way since the days when commissions ruled the roost.

Several scandals and a parliamentary inquiry later, financial planning has changed almost beyond recognition, with commissions on their way out.

As the industry's leading professional body, the Financial Planning Association of Australia can take a bow in lifting standards.

Yet, however the codes of conduct try to dress it up, many employers of financial planners expect them to reach sales targets.

Know your product ... shop around for a financial planner, despite changes.

Know your product ... shop around for a financial planner, despite changes.

Photo: Ken Robertson

It means consumers still have to be careful when looking for a planner. Financial planning is not yet a fully fledged profession. It is not enough to know that a planner is licensed and a member of a professional association. As long as sales targets are part of most planners' remuneration, perhaps it will never be a fully fledged profession.

Personal recommendations from trusted friends and family are often the best way to get initial leads on financial planners. But there has to be thorough checking.

One of the potentially big differences in the type of advice received relates to the financial-planning firm for which the planner works.

Some people prefer dealing with a planner who works for a big organisation, such as a bank or insurer, even though the planner may only be able to recommend a limited number of ''in-house'' financial products. That is not necessarily a bad thing. There is comfort in a big brand should anything go wrong, and at least the consumer knows the planners are standing behind the products of the organisation employing them.

Some people feel more comfortable dealing with a planner who is self-employed or for a firm that is independently owned.

How financial guidance is paid for can also make a difference to the type of advice received. Asset-based fees, charged as a percentage of the money under advice rather than paid for by the hour, could bias the advice towards financial products instead of paying off debts, for example.

When shopping around, consumers need to know not only who owns the financial planning licence, but also if there are any limitations to the type of advice that can be given, as well as the nature of the relationships the firm or planner has with product providers.

The key document for this information is the Financial Services Guide (FSG). Many planning firms will have their FSG on their websites. If not, the firm can send out the FSG on request.

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