The Fortune & Freedom mailbox makes for depressing reading on most days. When we decided to “take on” the financial industry, I didn’t realise it was such a can of worms to open. But, if your many messages are anything to go by, the industry has failed far too many of you.
Not that it’s everyone, of course. And our mailbag is hardly a scientific sample representative of the entire UK. But your comments are hard to ignore…
I had assumed the primary challenge facing UK investors would be poor returns from investment funds, with the occasional scandal such as the Woodford drama. But it seems the issues run deeper and are far more diverse.
I should’ve known better given my role in exposing Australia’s banking scandal. It took a Royal Commission in 2018 to expose what I had already revealed in 2012.
As part of our research into your emails, we asked two former independent financial advisers who now work at our publishing company to weigh in on what some of you are experiencing. You’ll hear from both as contributors to Fortune & Freedom in coming weeks. In fact, some of you already have. They’re also both close friends of mine. I trust them.
We asked them about the financial industry and what they sense is behind the many emails we receive from readers about things going so wrong.
Here’s how Sam Volkering responded:
Have you ever had a dream where you’re drowning, only then manage to thrash your way to the surface, gasp a brief moment of air to then find yourself drowning again?
This process repeats itself, drowning, gasp of air, drowning again, gasp of air… only for you to then realise you’re drowning because someone is actively pushing your head underwater.
All you need to do is push that hand aside and you’ll easily swim to the top, climb out of the water and find your freedom.
That’s what it felt like operating as an independent financial adviser in Australia.
I spent eight years working in the financial advice industry as a financial adviser. Early on I was with an “aligned adviser” that was tied to one of the big Australian investment organisations. But the inside of that world made me feel dirty, and conflicted.
So I left and moved to work as a truly independent financial adviser with an independent advisory firm operating their own Australian Financial Services Licence.
But even as an independent adviser, whilst I loved the business, the team I worked with and the clients, it was a zero-sum game.
By that I mean, even as an independent adviser, you’re always still fighting and grasping for that breath of air. You’re thrashing away for freedom, but always getting pushed back under.
You’re fighting against a whole industry that’s conflicted, biased and predisposed to looking after the industry before the individuals like you and me trying to get financially ahead.
It’s a system that’s complex, convoluted and puts great shackles and restrictions even on independent advisers.
The thing the industry restricts advisers the most from is advising on certain kinds of stocks and shares, unique, exciting market opportunities, new, alternative investment classes – none of those fit into the cookie cutter mould. They don’t fit into the business model just recommending funds and ETFs that “fit the mould”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent, credible, ethical and professional independent financial advisers out there. They do a wonderful job. But they’re fighting against an industry that I believe is rigged against them and against their clients.
I decided to leave being a traditional adviser to find somewhere with real freedom. The freedom to tell investors like it is, to inform them of the ways in which they can and should take control of their own financial freedom.
People can and should invest with freedom of choice, freedom of independent thought and freedom of decision making. That’s how you claim financial independence and claim your financial freedom.
The idea that financial advisers are being restrained in what they can recommend to their clients might be a new perspective for you. What if your adviser could tell you what they really think the best opportunities to profit are?
That’s why we founded Fortune & Freedom. And why writers like Sam Volkering feature.
We don’t give advice, of course. We share with you our best ideas and strategies so you can be more informed as you do your own research to find the best investments for your circumstances.
And we feel less constrained, even though we are governed by the same regulations as independent financial advisers.
Why? Well, we are willing to share insights and research on anything and everything we believe there is value in understanding and – when the time is right – speculating on.
Our research is not conservative. We have a commitment to sharing intelligence early, when we think it is most valuable. And we often back that intelligence with practical action.
That is a risk that most independent financial advisors may not be prepared to take. That’s fine. They’re generalists. Like GPs for your money. We consider our work to be quite specialist. That’s why we take deep dives on crypto, gold, inflation, renewable energy, 5G technology.
They have their corner of the industry and we have carved out our own.
Another friend and colleague, Boaz Shoshan wrote about why traditional financial advisers are so conforming to the conventional wisdom:
My interest in investing which led me to become a financial adviser began when I was a kid looking at the financial section of the newspaper. As an advisor, selling insurance and navigating the bureaucratic abyss that is the UK pension system was fine, but it didn’t stimulate me like the markets did.
Why were investors making 100-year loans to the Mexican government and French energy companies? How did central banks get away with printing money out of thin air? And how was fixing a debt crisis with more debt actually supposed to work?
I realised early on while I was still training to become an adviser that I was going to encounter trouble satisfying my curiosity in the industry. A fellow trainee informed me after we’d both completed our studies that I’d earned “a black mark” against my name for “asking too many questions”.
“Groupthink” is perhaps too strong a word, but there’s plenty of “following the herd” when it comes to giving investment advice. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fantastic financial advisers out there who only want the best for their clients and do everything in their power to make sure that happens.
But financial services is the most regulated industry in the UK, and that means satisfying the regulator is utterly paramount; in fact, it’s often the most time-consuming aspect of being an adviser. I believe this can change the behaviour of advisers in general, and leads them down the path of least resistance: giving investment advice which will create the least paperwork.
Expressing an alternative view, questioning mainstream investment wisdom and narratives was rarely welcomed. In my role as an adviser, I didn’t find the financial services industry was interested in questioning itself, even when the stakes could hardly be higher – this is an industry tasked with safeguarding the hard-earned life savings of British citizens; the wealth of a nation. What if somebody makes a mistake? What if some of our assumptions about investing are wrong, as so many popular assumptions have been all the way through financial history?
I wanted to know. I wanted to ask. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so while wearing the robes of an IFA. And that’s why I left, and now continue my search here at Southbank Investment Research.
The overconfidence of the wider financial industry is a remarkable thing in the face of all its crises. Perhaps merely being more humble would help improve financial outcomes. Acknowledging uncertainty.
It’s important to be clear that neither Sam or Boaz are accusing independent financial advisers of anything nefarious. They both point to the nature of the overall system and how it constrains those in it. Those who work in it as much as those who use it.
There are sound reasons for that, of course. Governments have tried to make financial markets more stable for us. But this has all sorts of unintended consequences too. Any industry that tries to work for everyone can sometimes end up leaving the individual behind a bit. People fall through cracks.
If you have found financial professionals you trust and who do a good job for you, that’s great.
But even then, we believe you should go out and do your own research, ask your questions and hold anyone who is talking to you about money, including us, to a very high standard, even if you do trust them and us. That way, you’re setting the bar as high as it should be, because your financial life has to work out, in the end, doesn’t it?
We also think the individual should have the confidence to be in control when it comes to their money. We believe you care about your money more than anyone else ever could. It’s your house you want to renovate. Your kids who have to go through university. Your holiday home. Your car. Your bank balance. Your retirement.
So who should be the decision maker? Who should be the one who is informed and responsible for how it all turns out? The answer is you.
That’s why Nigel and I launched Fortune & Freedom back in October. And that is why 85,000 people have joined us, so far.
I’m glad to have you as a reader. I hope you enjoy what we send to you every morning at 9am. But you should know, it is only the first step. An important one. But your next step will be even more impactful on your financial life. And that is to start receiving specific investment guidance from our expert Rob Marstrand – and deciding whether you want to act on it.
It can’t be all theory. At some point the rubber has to hit the road. Nigel’s new movement – which he calls a wealth revival for Britain – has been created to help someone just like you take that step, and take back control of your money in a very real and practical sense.
I recommend you get informed about it as soon as you can. If you’re serious about doing more for your financial life, do it today: Watch Britain’s Great Wealth Revival here.
If you’d like to share your own experiences of the financial industry, keep on emailing [email protected]. Your emails are adding to our resources and keeping us on track in terms of what to write about.
Specifically, we’d love to know if…
- You are confident you’ll have enough to live comfortably on in retirement? Are you required to pay vast fees to get your own hands on your own money?
- What was the best/worst investment advice you have ever received?
- What has been your experience of getting your pensions in order?
- How do you think the traditional financial advice industry could help individuals more?
- What would you like traditional financial advisers to cover, that you never hear about?
And any other questions you think we need to focus on.
Let me know: [email protected]
Editor, Fortune & Freedom
PS If you don’t fancy watching Britain’s Great Wealth Revival you can always read it here.