Getting financial advice
There will probably be times in your life when you're not sure what to do with your money or what decisions you need to make about your financial future. There are thousands of different financial products on offer and choosing between them can be difficult.
If you have little experience of dealing with finances or you're confused about making a decision, it may be helpful to get professional financial advice.
A financial adviser can help with things like:
- planning for your retirement
- investing or saving money
- making the most of a lump sum of money such as a redundancy payment or an inheritance
- buying a property or taking out a mortgage
- when your life changes for example, you're starting a family, getting divorced or you've been widowed.
Advice or guidance?
Some individuals and organisations – often advice charities - offer financial guidance. This is different to financial advice. Guidance provides you with information about the various options available to you, but should not recommend any particular option over another. Financial advice, however, informs you which specific product would best suit your needs.
For example, if you have a lump sum you want to save, someone giving guidance would tell you what your saving options are in broad terms. They may tell you about the pros and cons of regular savings accounts, ISAs and investments. They won’t tell you about specific products offered by named companies or what option might suit you best. A financial adviser would look at specific savings accounts, investments and ISAs offered by various companies and recommend a specific one that best suits your personal circumstances.
Guidance services are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This means if things go wrong with your financial choice, you may not be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
If you are not sure whether you are receiving guidance or advice, ask the adviser or organisation to explain.
If you're looking for financial guidance you could contact a free, impartial organisation that specialises in financial guidance. For example, you can get guidance about money on the Money Helper website.
On this page you can find information about:
- types of financial adviser
- what you need to think about before you see a financial adviser
- what kind of information the financial adviser should give you
- what it will cost and how to pay
- where to get further information about financial advice.
Financial advisers look at your personal circumstances and your financial plans and recommend products to help you meet your needs.
There are two types of financial advisers:
- independent financial advisers (IFAs) give unbiased advice about the whole range of financial products from all the different companies available
- restricted advisers give advice on a limited range of products. They may specialise in one area, for example pensions, or they may only offer advice on products offered by a limited number of companies.
It's usually best to get independent financial advice so that you can look at the widest range of advice and products available.
All financial advisers must have the following:
- Level 4 or above of the national Qualifications and Credit Framework
- a Statement of Professional Standing (SPS). This means they have signed up to a code of ethics and have complete at least 35 hours of professional training each year. SPS certificates must be renewed annually so check your adviser‘s is up-to-date.
All financial advisers should be registered with the FCA. This means they meet the right standards and you get more protection if you’re not happy with the service. For example, you can complain to the Financial Services Ombudsman and may be able to claim compensation if things go wrong.
If a financial adviser is not registered with the FCA, you can make a complaint to the FCA.
Don’t be afraid to ask an adviser about their qualifications and Statement of Professional Standing.
To check a financial adviser is registered with the FCA see the Financial Services Register.
There's a full list of the different qualifications a financial adviser can have as well as the professional bodies that represent them on the unbiased.co.uk website. Go to: www.unbiased.co.uk.
When you see an adviser they should give you the right kind of advice for your financial needs. If they don’t, you may be able to complain.
The financial products that an adviser recommends should:
- be affordable for you
- take account of whether you want to save for the long or short term
- be suitable for the amount of risk you want to take
- take account of whether you pay tax.
If an adviser ignores these points and recommends a product that is not right for you, and you later lose money because of this, you can complain.
An adviser only has to give you the right kind of advice within the limits of what they are qualified to do. For example, if you see a restricted adviser, they will only recommend a suitable product for you from the range of products they sell. A restricted adviser doesn't have to tell you that you could buy a similar product from another company at a cheaper price. If you later find this out, you would not be able to complain.
For this reason, it might be better to go to an independent financial adviser who will be able to look at products from the whole of the market.
If a financial adviser can't find a product to suit your needs, they must refer you to another adviser who can help you. If they don’t do this, you may be able to complain.
Checklist of things to do at your first meeting with an adviser
Here's some tips about things to do at your first meeting with a financial adviser:
- check that the adviser you are seeing is qualified to give you the advice you need
- take notes so that you have a clear record of what was said at the meeting
- ask lots of questions and make sure you understand everything you are told
- take time to think about any decisions or to compare products with another adviser. You don’t have to sign up for anything on the spot
- be prepared to answer questions honestly. A financial adviser will ask you lots of personal questions about your financial plans and personal circumstances so that they can recommend the most suitable products for you
- check that your personal information is kept confidential, and find out whether it is used for marketing purposes.
Before you look for a financial adviser, try to work out what kind of advice you need. This will help you find the right adviser for your situation. Here's a checklist of some of the things to think about:
- are you planning for a particular event? For example, your retirement or saving up to buy a house or your children’s college fees. You need to look at your life and work out what events you need to plan for financially
- do you have spare money to invest? Take a good look at your finances to see how much you can afford to save. Make sure you have cleared any outstanding debts, loans or bills first
- how much risk are you prepared to take with your money? When you invest money, there’s a chance you could lose money on your investment. Some investments are riskier than others but can make you more money if they do well. As a general rule, the longer you invest for, the more likely you are to make money, rather than lose it
- how long do you want to tie up your money for? The length of time you are willing to invest for affects the types of products an adviser will choose
- do you want advice on different kinds of investments? For example, ethical or environmentally friendly investments or financial products that invest according to Shariah principles?
- are you looking for advice or just information? You may want someone to advise you what to do with your money or just information about a financial product so that you can make your own choice. Some financial advisers will provide both information and advice
- do you want one-off advice or advice on an on-going basis? Make sure you are clear about how much the advice will cost you and that you can afford it.
When you first meet with a financial adviser, you should be given clear information on the services the adviser offers, including:
- whether the advice is independent, or restricted. If the advice is restricted, the adviser should tell you how it is restricted. For example, whether they are only offering products from certain companies
- the level of advice you will receive. For example, you may just be looking for information to help you decide what to do, or you may need someone to suggest the best options for you
- how much you'll have to pay for the advice.
Your adviser should also give you a key facts document with information about:
- the adviser or firm you are using and the services they offer
- the products they have recommended for you
- the right to change your mind about taking out a financial product and how long you have to do it
- your right to be given further information or an explanation if there is something you don’t understand
- how to make a complaint if you’re not happy with the service or product provided
- who the firm is authorised and regulated by
- the cost of the service and/or product.
If the adviser doesn't give you this information, make sure you ask them for it.
You will have to pay for financial advice and you may also have to pay charges on the financial products you buy.
You need to be very clear about how much the advice is costing you and what the charges are on the products you are recommended. Make sure you understand all the costs involved and compare fees and investment charges between different advisers before you make a final decision. You may be able to get the same product at a cheaper price with another adviser.
Ways to pay
Advisers are no longer paid by commission. This means that the advice they give should not be influenced by any commission they may earn on a particular investment.
Advice can be charged as:
- an hourly rate
- a set fee according to the work involved
- a monthly retainer
- a percentage of the money invested.
Your adviser should explain to you how much their advice will cost and together you will need to agree how to pay for this. You could pay them upfront or you may be able to agree that the adviser will take it from the sum that you invest.
Your adviser should set out the charges in a clear way and make sure you understand how much you are paying.
Fees may vary from adviser to adviser, so you should shop around to get the best deal.
There may be extra charges for looking after your investments or providing advice on a regular basis.
To get advice on the widest range of products and compare costs, you should look for an independent financial adviser. The following organisations can put you in touch with a qualified adviser in your area:
Unbiased at www.unbiased.co.uk. You can find independent and restricted ‘whole of market’ advisers on their website. Restricted ‘whole of market’ means advisers who can offer available products from all companies, but who may specialise in a particular area, such as pensions.
Personal Finance Society at www.findanadviser.org. You can find independent and restricted advisers on their website.
VouchedFor at www.vouchedfor.co.uk. You can find independent and restricted advisers on their website.
Ethical Investment Research Service www.eiris.org.
You may already have financial links with a bank or building society and trust their products, so feel more comfortable about seeking their advice. This is called taking restricted advice.
If you decide to do this you need to be aware that there may be other financial products from other companies that are cheaper or better suited to your needs.
You can’t complain to a financial adviser if your investment doesn’t make as much money as you’d hoped. But if you have lost money because of bad advice, wrong or misleading information or poor administration, you can complain to the adviser who originally gave you the advice.
You must follow the company's complaints procedure. If you’re not satisfied with the response, where you take the complaint next depends on who gave you the advice.
If the adviser you saw was authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), you should take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. To find out if the Financial Ombudsman can deal with your complaint, you can call their consumer helpline on 0300 123 9 123 (8am to 6pm Monday to Friday). There’s also a special complaints form you can download and send to them by post. For more details, go to www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.
You can also find out from the consumer helpline whether the Financial Ombudsman can deal with a complaint about a company which is not authorised by the FCA.
If you received financial advice from a solicitor or accountant, who is authorised by the FCA to give financial advice, you may need to take your complaint to the professional body which regulates them.
If you’re not sure where to complain, you can contact the FCA consumer helpline on 0800 111 6768.
Money Helper is a free, independent service. You can find out more about borrowing money, savings and pensions on the Money Helper website.