Despite new rules, finance firms aren't open about cost of advice

If you think all advisers will charge the same, think again. The difference in costs is astounding says Simon Read.

New rules that came into force at the end of 2012 mean that financial advisers must now tell you exactly how much you'll have to pay for their help. But research conducted on behalf of The Independent has revealed that prices vary enormously.

The results mean that if you fail to find out how much an adviser will charge you and then shop around for better rates, you could discover thousands of pounds of your savings disappearing into advisers' pockets.

The City watchdog changed the way that financial advisers get paid by effectively banning commission payments to them.

It meant that the long-standing tradition where many advisers could simply rely on generous commissions handed out by the firms which supply the financial products is over. Instead they now have to charge you a fee.

The hope was that it would become obvious to customers how much they are paying for advice and end the temptation for advisers to simply flog the products - investments and insurances - that paid the highest commission.

But there is no set scale of fees or control on how much advisers can charge. And, as our research has found, the charges can vary enormously.

The research threw up charges ranging from 1.5 per cent to 2.74 per cent a year. That's a difference of £3,100 per year for an investment or pension pot of £250,000.

It suggests that people could save up to 1.24 per cent in annual investment and pension charges, by shopping around smaller independent financial-advice firms.

The study involved a mystery-shopping exercise where 14 financial advice firms were contacted. The sample included six large firms whose advice is "restricted" to a specific selection of funds, and eight small "independent" companies, which are free to advise across all available funds. The small firms were selected on the basis of their advisers' good client ratings on the VouchedFor.co.uk website.

Under the new rules, financial advice firms must agree with clients an explicit fee. Despite that, the study revealed that it is not so easy to obtain that crucial information.

Among the six large "restricted" firms contacted, only one – Towry – provided full information about its fees. Otherwise, firms did not respond, insisted on first meeting the client, or provided scant information.

One major advice firm contacted which declined to reveal its fees reportedly charges clients up to 5 per cent in the first year.

In the case of a client with £250,000 to invest, Towry levies an initial charge of 1 per cent plus VAT, then from 2.39-2.74 per cent each year thereafter, in cases where they recommended their own funds. These charges are inclusive of advisory, platform and fund costs.

The smaller "independent" firms fared better, with six of the eight responding with fee information more quickly, within 24 hours.

They typically had an initial charge of up to 1 per cent, with annual charges then ranging from 0.8 per cent to 1.2 per cent, for someone looking to invest £250,000.

The charges covered the cost of advice, but excluded fund and platform charges. However with independent advisers free to seek out the best funds available, you'd expect them to find competitive fund and platform charges. They alone can range from less than 1 per cent to more than 3 per cent.

One accredited financial-planning firm, Tower Hill Associates, suggested total annual investment charges, including advice, platform and fund costs, should be around 1.5 per cent. That works out as a saving of up to 1.24 per cent compared with Towry's charges.

Adam Price, founder of VouchedFor, said: "It appears some firms are shying away from transparency, while others are embracing it.

"There are more than 6,000 firms offering financial advice in the UK, and not all are equal. People should compare different firms, not just on transparency and cost, but also quality of advice and service. It pays to shop around for a well-recommended independent financial adviser with a clear charging structure."

At the heart of any advice service is the fact that people want the right advice and should be prepared to pay for it. After all, a good financial adviser should be able to help investors avoid expensive mistakes.

But when looking for financial advice, cost is one of the key factors for most people. According to Unbiased, a body which represents many professional advisers across the UK, the average cost per hour for financial advice is about £150 depending on where you live and the qualifications of the adviser.

Karen Barrett, chief executive at Unbiased, said: "A financial adviser who helps you to review your investments or set up your pension may be happy to do this for a fixed charge for the whole job, and see if there is room for negotiation or paying in instalments."

If you don't know any financial advisers you can search them out online. At www.unbiased.co.uk you can search based on location, as well as product areas, qualifications, testimonials, specialist advisers and accreditations.

At www.VouchedFor.co.uk you can look at others' reviews of financial advisers. On average the site says its clients have rated the listed IFA firms 4.6 out of 5 for value-for-money.

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