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Malcolm Kerr: What makes the perfect adviser?

Malcolm_Kerr_EYI have met many advisers in my career, starting as a broker consultant back in the 1970s (when they were product salesmen) and continuing as a “big four” consultant since, working for those involved in the long-term savings, investment and protection sectors.

In that time, I have also moderated dozens of adviser workshops at various events and worked on M&A projects. Every individual firm or adviser seems to be different. And I still have not identified exactly what makes the ideal adviser. Perhaps now is the time to try.

So, from the perspective of this relatively affluent baby boomer, here we go:

Communication: The ability to turn complex technical analysis into simple steps is critical. As is the ability to make boring details interesting, in documents as well as face to face.

Experience: It is helpful and reassuring when it is clear my adviser has actually dealt with similar client situations before and/or has been in similar circumstances themselves. When authentic, a simple “I know how you feel” is a very comforting statement.

Caring: It is important the adviser actually cares deeply about ensuring they give me the best advice, and that I understand why it is the best possible advice. A degree of self-doubt is welcome.

Relationship: I do not work with people I do not like. I look for professional and enjoyable relationships based on mutual respect and trust. And it is important my better half buys into the relationship with my adviser, as probability suggests it will be her relationship, not mine, at some time in the future.

Reliability: Sounds like a no-brainer but I encounter too many people that do not actually deliver what they promise. They might be too busy, one of their staff might let them down or they just might not think it matters that they deliver on time. The ideal adviser under-promises and over-delivers.

Emotional intelligence: This is a critical quality, which most successful advisers have in abundance. Talking about serious money, redundancy, retirement, marriage, children, divorce, bereavement and other important life events is highly emotional. An adviser that can understand how the client is feeling at times like this is invaluable. This understanding is very unlikely to be replaced by an algorithm any time soon.

Challenge: Investment carries risk and many people (including me) are wary of risk. My ideal adviser is able to challenge this attitude in a positive way in order to arrive at the best solution, rather than the easiest solution. Emotional intelligence at work.

Technical competence: My ideal adviser does not have to be an absolute expert in everything – provided, of course, there are absolute experts in the back office. As mentioned above, it is the ability to clearly communicate what is necessary that is essential. I once heard a chief executive say to the head of the actuarial function, “I just don’t get it”. The actuary replied, “Don’t worry; it’s very complicated”, to which the chief executive responded: “I’m not worried that I can’t understand it; I’m worried that you can’t explain it”

Investment expertise: I have limited confidence in investment “experts”. However, I do have confidence in process. And if there is a process that makes sense to me, I really do not mind if it is followed by the adviser or a third party – provided it is followed.

Technology: My ideal adviser would have strong technology set up to help deliver their proposition. I would also want something online to help me see how my investments are performing against the agreed benchmarks. The ability to input and see my physical assets and cash deposits would be helpful too.

The first deliverable: Initial advice. Here, less is more. And I know very well how much longer it takes to create a short document rather than a long one. We once had a very senior client who demanded a statement on a page (A4. Arial 12). If you sent him anything longer it was sent back. These SOAPs took hours to write but saved him hours of reading. If he needed more information to make his decision, he would let you know very quickly.

Clearly, there are regulatory requirements that have to be met in the world of advice but ideal advisers would be able to encapsulate the important stuff in a short document:

  • This is where you are
  • This is where you want to be
  • This (if anything) is what needs to be done to get you there
  • These are the key risks
  • Read the attached full report as soon as possible and get back to me with any questions.

The second deliverable: Implementation. This has to be as easy and efficient as is possible. I appreciate that product providers are not always helpful in this area.

The third deliverable: Administration and ongoing service. The former will be dealt with by an adviser’s support staff. As far as the latter is concerned, the adviser will be proactive in terms of “bed and Isa” etc, will let me know what is going on it terms of tax and other developments, and meet me twice a year for a chat about my life and my investments. Followed by a decent lunch.

Fees: My ideal adviser would charge fixed fees and/or hourly rates rather than a percentage of the investment. This is not a point of principle but pure maths based on the sums involved. However, if a discretionary fund manager was managing the portfolio against the mandate agreed, then I guess basis points is the only option.

In any event, my ideal adviser will demonstrate value for money at each and every opportunity. And they will not find me quibbling about cost. In fact, they might find me picking up the bill for lunch.

Malcolm Kerr is senior adviser at EY


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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Malcolm. A good article. What “value” would you put on “the perfect adviser”. There seems to be much in the media these days, from the regulator too, that investors shouldn’t pay too much for advice and yet as highlighted elsewhere there is 1/10th of the advisers there were 20+ years ago yet the population needing or at least wanting advice has probably more than doubled.

  2. Good article

  3. In my experience the perfect adviser does not exist or anywhere near.

  4. Malcolm I fear you may have wasted your time on this !!

    Your should have read Pete Matthews article the other day ! which says it quite nicely

  5. Generally, a good article Malcolm, but absolutism re’ percentages versus fixed fees simply does not stand up, and you have spent a lot of your life working for companies who charge percentages on their funds and plans; Albany for one if my memory serves me correctly. We use a mix of fixed fees, percentages, and hourly rates. The overriding imperatives are 1) to be fair 2) to be competitive; 3) to be viable so that we can continue serving our clients indefinitely. The absolutists can pontificate all they like, but I have mystery shopped every single supposed fixed-fee only firm whose bosses I’ve ever heard shouting the odds, and not one has ever beaten us on price. Restrict your client bank to a small number of extremely high net worth clients and yes, I am sure fixed fees can work, but I’m interested in looking after some of the 99% who DON’T fall into that bracket. As to expecting two meetings a year followed by lunch Malcolm, that is plain daft. We see our clients when they want to see us. Only one couple want twice-yearly meetings out of the 600 or so investment clients we look after. For most, it would make no sense and they are smart enough to kmnow it. We are most useful to our clients when we’re in the office working, not schmoozing them with meals and golf and all that rubbish. If I had an adviser who was forever wanting to socialise with me, I’d think to myself “What are you trying to distract my attention from, what do you want, and why don’t you have something better to do?” All the advisers I’ve ever known who overdo the socialising do it because they are the sell sell sell types who are always pestering their clients for referrals. We don’t camp on our clients’ doorsteps. As for lunches, our aim is to make our clients so much money that they can afford to buy their own lunches – at the Ritz or the Cafe de Paris if that’s what floats their boat. While they are eating we’ll be working and earning our paycheck. All we ask to be judged by is our results.

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