Financial planners should work towards your goals, not theirs


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The other day a friend of mine was telling me she and her husband had just bought a boat, and their financial planner was furious.

My friend is in a very senior role earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Her husband is also in a senior role with a big income.

In a nutshell, they are not poor and can easily afford their new toy.

Buying that boat will have no impact on their standard of living in retirement, yet their financial planner is not happy.

It set me wondering why, and I think there are two reasons.

As the conversation with my friend progressed, I learned her financial planner charges her what's known as an asset-based "fee", which is a percentage of the money he manages on her behalf.

It's a commission by any other name and the more money he manages, the more money he earns.

So, to announce that you've just spend the best part of a million dollars on a boat is saying to this financial planner that he will have a million dollars less to manage and will be getting paid less.

Ouch! Who wants a pay cut?

Fee for advice the only way to avoid conflicts

But the much bigger issue, as we have seen in all the financial planning scandals over the years, is that how financial planners get paid affects the advice they give.

If your salary depends on how much money you are managing, you will want that money pile to be as big as possible.

This is where the conflict between your interest and their interest emerges.

For many people, the best advice a financial planner can give is to simply pay off their house.

As with the boat, though, there's no incentive to give that advice if they are giving themselves a pay cut at the same time.

It's why genuine fee for advice must be the way forward.

You want a financial adviser who only gets paid for his or her advice and nothing else.

It liberates advisers to focus on what's best for you, rather than thinking, "if I say this or that, how will I get paid?"

If a financial planner is charging an asset-based fee you can't be sure he or she is working for you and not themselves.

Advice to achieve goals, not maximise wealth

The second reason I think my friend's financial planner is unhappy with the boat is that I don't think he fully understands his role.

A financial planner is not there to solely maximise your wealth.

The role of a financial planner is to help people achieve their goals in life.

Your adviser should know your goals because it should be one of the first questions asked when you meet for the first time.

Which is why my friend's decision to buy a new boat should have been no surprise. The planner should have known they already had a boat and at some stage would be replacing it.

Once goals are out on the table the job then is to devise a strategy to pay for them, and that's where the planner earns his or her money.

For some people it may mean extracting every cent possible from their wealth generating ability. For others it won't.

And, of course, a goal that's at or near the top for all of us is to be happy.

My friend and her husband could have invested their million dollars in a share portfolio they don't need and made lots more money.

They're much happier with the boat.

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