On financial guidance, there's no such thing as a free hunch
LOTS OF lip service is paid to the worth of independent financial advice. But it has to be the right independent financial advice. To ensure that we get truly independent guidance we should be prepared to pay. That should help guarantee that the financial adviser will not be pushing a particular product simply because it delivers a nice juicy commission.

This sounds fine, in principle, but how many of us are prepared to sit down with a fee-based IFA and write out a cheque in return for their opinions? Not many, I would guess. Which only goes to show that we need to change our mindset. For example, according to one fee-based IFA, the cost of advice and execution for a personal pension would total pounds 439. This might sound like a lot of money, but compare it with the pounds 1,440 which the same service could cost you if you went with an adviser working on a commission basis.

Of course, you would not actually have to write out a cheque for the latter sum to your adviser but you would be waving goodbye to what amounts to a substantial proportion of your first year's premium payments - seeing them go into the adviser's pocket rather than working for you.

These figures come from the newest kid on the block, Sort. Although Sort is by no means the only IFA with a presence on the Internet, I believe it may well be the only IFA which operates solely in cyberspace, through its website and via the telephone.

Sort, which is regulated by the Personal Investment Authority, offers independent advice but will not directly sell you any products. If you decide to buy after taking the firm's advice, you have the choice of approaching a product provider directly, using another financial adviser or a discount broker. If you decide to take the latter route, bear in mind that Sort has itself negotiated discounts of up to 85 per cent on commissions with discount broker Direct Investor. You may be hard pushed to beat that for value.

So, assuming you want to get your finances "sorted" what will it cost? Sort's full financial HealthCheck is pounds 99 and specific product advice is pounds 79. You can contact Sort 24 hours a day on the Internet and by telephone between 8am and 8pm weekdays (10am to 4pm weekends).

The key part of any interaction with an independent financial adviser is the so-called "fact find" in which you explain your current financial situation and aspirations. You can complete a "fact find" at your leisure online and then e-mail it to Sort. Once it has been received you will get what Sort calls its Financial Decision Kit which will be e-mailed back within 48 hours.

This is a detailed jargon-free analysis which will outline all your options, as well as product pros and cons. The Kit will also provide you with comparisons of the best deals on the market and list the products which Sort believes are right for you.

If, at any stage of the proceedings, you decide you want to deal directly with a human rather than via your computer, you may also call Sort and talk to a qualified financial consultant to discuss the Kit and ensure that you understand the contents and are able to make an informed decision. If,at any stage, you are not happy with the service or advice which you get from Sort, the firm offers to refund your fee. That's not a bad deal.

Sort: www.sort.co.uk

Sort Direct: 0800 0283020

Robin can be reached at RobinAmlot@aol.com