Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Tuesday, 28 August 2007 00:10 UK

Where to get fair financial advice

MONEY TALK
By David Elms
Chief executive of Unbiased.co.uk

David Elms
David Elms
It is never the wrong time to review your finances to ensure that they are on track.

After all, your financial well-being plays a part in nearly everything you do, or look forward to doing in the future.

Whether you are looking for the best pension plan, mortgage, investment scheme or life assurance policy, the most suitable product for you is almost certainly out there.

Therefore, some initial planning and advice can prove invaluable in making the right choices for your individual situation.

More and more publicity is given to where to go for financial advice, but do people really understand it?

Why would you need advice?

Marketing material piles through our letter boxes, falls out of our newspapers and is ever-present every time we log on to the internet.

Most of us have received only the merest hint of education about managing our personal finances

In addition, organisations are increasingly approaching consumers with details of their financial product offerings and special promotions - which may be suitable for you, but how do you know for sure?

Some financial products are simpler than others.

Most people understand how home insurance, for instance, works and can check the terms, levels of cover and conditions of the policy themselves.

This means they can purchase home insurance direct from the insurer without the need for advice.

However, when it comes to long-term savings products such as investments and pensions and other areas like protection, it is not so easy.

These come in various shapes, sizes and forms, so you will need to be aware of which best suits your needs, whether there are better alternatives and what level of risk is involved.

Sadly, most of us have received only the merest hint of education about managing our personal finances and therefore do not have the knowledge that is required to make these judgements alone.

So in the same way as you would turn to a doctor if you have health problems, you should seek a professional's help when it comes to your finances.

Who to ask

There are many places you can turn to for advice; friends and family, your bank, or a professional adviser. But only an independent financial adviser (IFA) is able to offer you unbiased financial advice on all products in the world of financial services.

Check their credentials by asking them what qualifications they have

Any other advice route will offer you advice on a range of products limited to only a selection of the relevant products available to you, but not all.

And whilst this may be all you think you need, experience shows that when the choices are clearly explained, people recognise the value of independent financial advice.

Finding the right IFA for you is simple and easy.

Unbiased.co.uk operates a "Find an IFA" service to find local IFAs in your area, who are best matched to your individual financial needs.

The search is free and confidential.

Choosing the right adviser for your needs

Once you have chosen an IFA, you next have to ensure that they have the right knowledge and experience.

Personal impressions are important when selecting the right adviser, as are recommendations from friends and colleagues.

Ask how long the adviser and firm have been practicing, and check their credentials by asking them what qualifications they have.

Some people will feel more at ease with a female adviser, or one that specialises in advice on particular product areas like retirement planning or mortgages.

However, like choosing an accountant or dentist, you are looking for someone that you can forge a trusting relationship with.

Personal impressions are important when selecting the right adviser, as are recommendations from friends and colleagues.

Advice costs

Once you have made a choice, your first meeting will be a "getting to know you" session, where you will be asked about your priorities and plans.

Fees for advice vary widely, but are typically between 50 and 200 an hour

An IFA must offer you the option of paying by a fee, as well as the option of paying by commission - ultimately added to the cost of any financial product bought from the adviser - or a combination of the two.

Tied and multi-tied agents do not have to offer you this choice, but some may.

In the past, the majority of consumers tended to opt to pay for their advice by commission.

In the future, there may well be a shift towards more people paying fees, as the cost and value of advice will become clearer.

Fees for advice vary widely, but are typically between 50 and 200 an hour.

But do not be afraid to negotiate on costs with your adviser. He or she may well be prepared to reduce their fee or rebate more commission, especially if they want you as a long-term customer.

Financial planning and adapting to changing circumstances is a lifelong commitment, so taking a little time now to find the most suitable type of advice from someone you are comfortable with could save you a great deal of money in future.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.



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