Monday, August 03, 2009

Independent financial advisers - mythical creatures

There is no shortage of people in Hong Kong who tout themselves as "independent financial advisers". They will claim that they are independent of large (or any) financial institutions. This is nothing short of an outright lie. If they are taking a commission (or other payment) from an institution they cannot be independent and should be prohibited from holding themselves out as such.

The only financial advisers who can legitimately claim to be independent are those whose only income from their relationship with their client is paid for by the client as a fully disclosed fee. These advisers are known as "fee only" advisers. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find such a person in Hong Kong and have concluded that, like the Easter Bunny, such creatures do not exist here.

The reason for the search is that, as my target retirement date draws closer, I would like an independent professional to take a good hard look at our finances, our financial projections and our retirement plan. I want an independent sanity check before I join the ranks of early retirees to give myself maximum comfort that (i) I will not have to re-enter the workforce at a later date and (ii) we will not have to compromise on our living standards.

I do not trust the so called IFAs and the wealth mangers at many banks whom I have encountered. With only very limited exceptions, all have essentially offered me insurance/annuity products which only a moron would buy, high front end load funds with high expense ratios (often with long lock ups) and similarly unattractive products which are designed for the sole purpose of making other people rich at my expense. Most of them ask only basic questions about my financial background and objectives (or none at all) and only once I has a so called financial planner talked about asset allocation. Most do not even ask about wills and medical insurance. The last person I wasted time speaking with gave some of the most outrageously bad advice I have come across.

The limited exceptions are people selling specific products (like overpriced off the plan property developments and futures trading accounts) which are typically equally good wealth destroyers. The only piece of rubbish no one has tried to sell me (yet) is a time share.

How hard can it be to find a competent fee only financial planner in one of the world's financial centres?

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