Stay with the Woolwich

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The Independent Online
A reminder to Woolwich carpetbaggers - people excluded from profiting out of the society's flotation because they opened accounts this year: don't touch your money yet.

Last week the Prudential was reported to be sniffing around the society as a means to acquiring a high street presence. If the Pru or anyone else bids for the Woolwich, which is thought to be vulnerable to a takeover, there's a fair chance they'd offer these carpetbaggers a windfall to help win support for the move. And those savers who qualify already could expect a bigger handout.

Be your own adviser

You don't need to be an expert on the world of money to manage your personal finances efficiently, nor do you need to risk putting yourself wholly in the hands of a financial adviser. A middle way of acquiring some knowledge of basic financial principles - and then listening carefully to what's on offer - is a sensible and realistic route open to most people.

That's long been my view. So I was pleased to see that it is shared by Be Your Own Financial Adviser, the latest financial guide from the Consumers Association (publisher of Which? magazine). The book advocates doing some homework before visiting an adviser, so you can judge the quality of the advice. The book also offers 10 tips for getting the most out of any financial adviser, and they are worth repeating here:

Go only to an adviser authorised under the Financial Services Act, which can be checked on a register run by the Securities and Investments Board on 0171-929 3652.

Know your adviser: is he or she able to sell just one company's products, or independent and able to recommend from the whole market? For a list of independent advisers in your area, phone IFA Promotions on 0117-971 1177; for advisers who charge fees rather than commission call the Money Management Register of Fee-based Advisers on 0117-976 9444.

How can your adviser help you? Is he or she authorised for the areas of business you're interested in? Does he or she have relevant expertise? How does he or she keep abreast of new products?

Think twice before buying without advice, because you'll lose some of the protection under the Financial Services Act.

Be prepared. Be clear about your financial objectives and the priorities you attach to them.

Be informed. Know what literature to expect, read it, ask questions if there are gaps in your knowledge.

Be sceptical. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Never be pressed into making a deal on the spot, whatever the discounts and special offers.

Make your payments direct to the product company, not to the adviser.

Keep all documents, receipts and records of conversations in a safe place in case of a dispute later on.

I have free copies of Be Your Own Financial Adviser (which costs pounds 9.99 from book shops, or phone 0800 252100) to send to the first 10 people who write in saying what questions they'd like answered in Your Money. Write to: Steve Lodge, Personal Finance Editor, Independent on Sunday, One Canada Square, London E14 5DL.

Fast tracks

Final call for the Railtrack privatisation. To get the best deal - price and allocation-wise - should you decide to buy, you have to register with a share shop by close of business tomorrow (Monday).

Share shops include banks, building societies and stockbrokers. Each offers their own deal and you can register with more than one and decide later which to buy through. Some possibilities include: Barclays Stockbrokers (0345 585039); Hargreaves Lansdown (0117-988 9898); The Share Centre (0800 800008); Sharelink (0121-687 8000); Skipton building society (0800 1380800).