Generally speaking, members of the public rely on professionals to provide services that they do not have the knowledge or experience to do themselves. I have tried to replace a toilet cistern with quite amusing results and now rely upon the services of a plumber.

I should imagine that if DIY dentist kits (drill included) were available in the supermarket, they would not be a good seller.

We do tend to rely upon the professionals that we choose to help us with our lives but as with all professions there are a few cowboys amongst the decent tradesmen. This includes Financial Services. When financial advice is given with the main objective being benefitting the person giving the advice, then serious long-term financial problems can result.

In 2013 EFPG decided to not to recommend commission paying products for our regular personal pension and savings plans – unless we were specifically asked to. We thought them inflexible, expensive and had extremely confusing and complex charging structures. Instead EFPG decided to design our own products with simple and clean charges, no commissions and as a result the plans are extremely flexible. We take great care in listing every cost that our clients’ savings and investments will face. EFPG wants our clients to have a pleasant investment experience with no hidden surprises. We also offer on-line 24 hour access so that our clients can monitor their investments. By doing this we hope to be seen as transparent, honest and trustworthy.

Not every IFA has the same philosophy.  In 2015 we were approached by an introducer that had pointed clients to two Advisory companies who then advised these clients into pension transfers and a truly awful investment.

The Cayman Island Fund

EFPG was presented the fund by the introducer to see if we would accept it in our overseas pension if they arranged the financial advice. We rejected it because on reviewing the investment prospectus our interpretation was that it offered no investor protection whatsoever. The directors and investment manager could do pretty much as they pleased and invest pretty much without restriction.

Time proved us to be right.

The introducer also controlled the fund’s investment management company. The investment management company invested in assets that the introducer also controlled. The investment management company also made investments in a way that the fund was not permitted to make. Additionally the same introducer also acted as the financial adviser to everyone (that I know of) who invested in the fund either from his own company or as a representative of another advisory company.

Completely staggering.

Currently the fund is being liquidated (meaning that the fund’s assets are being sold) and investors are facing very significant losses and delays in getting what they can out of the fund. Some investors were relying on the income from their pensions – income that has not been forthcoming for over 2½ years.

Although pension providers are not expected to be investment experts, a cursory glance at the fund and the surrounding arrangements should have set off all kinds of warning signals. Additionally, the fund had only just come in to existence, as had the investment manager.

There are a couple of easy methods that enable us to reject an investment offhand without spending too much time and effort reviewing the proposal. Firstly we look at the companies that provide services to the fund (auditors etc.). If the companies are not well-known this is a warning sign. Secondly we look at the Conflicts of Interest section and if it isn’t blank or short, we steer clear. Conflicts are a clear sign that a scheme exists not to achieve returns for investors but for insiders to strip out their cash in fees before it inevitably collapses. The investment mandate is also good reading as it permits us to judge how risky a fund is – risk with respect to liquidity and capital being the most pertinent elements of risk for a pension investment.

Obviously the stress and financial hardship suffered by the investors is the worst aspect of this mis-selling fraud/ investment fraud. However, the IFA acting in such a duplicitous manner compounds the issue - the investors have been betrayed by a trusted “professional” and as a result are extremely unlikely to seek financial advice in the future which could mean they would continue to make bad decisions.

The above shows that you do need to do your homework when seeking financial advice. Get personal recommendations, look online, make sure that the investments being advised are regulated and suitable for retail clients and if you are being shoe-horned into an investment bond, find out about the costs to you and the inflexibility of the product.