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How do you run your own money safely?


There are no guarantees in investing. The value of an investment may fall as well as rise however you invest and with whoever you invest. You may get back less than the amount invested. But in real terms, investing is the only way you may get back more than the amount invested, as cash savings carry a high inflation risk.


What are our top tips on how to run your own money safely? Here we're talking about financial assets rather than property or business assets (other ways to create wealth).


Steve Conley, the founder of Generic Financial Planning, is the former head of investments at HSBC, and previously he held that position for other banks. He is an investment expert and frequently consulted by and quoted in numerous articles in Financial Times, The Mail on Sunday, FT Adviser, Money Marketing, and IFA Online. Here is what he has found.


Here are his three favourite words of wisdom when it comes to investing.


1) The retail investment market is commoditised.


Christopher Woolard CBE. Board trustee of the UK Consumers’ Association, Which? And the former interim chief executive of the FCA. In September 2020, he said:


“The overwhelming majority of retail investors are best served by readily understood, well-diversified and low-cost investments, which are already available from a range of providers, but many retail investors don’t choose these.”


To find the range of providers, subscribe to publicly available independent surveys such as Which Money. Digital membership is only £39.50 in year one, which works out as less than £1 a week.



2) Keep it boring!


 Gareth Fatchett. FS Legal Solicitors LLP. Shortlisted for International Lawyer of the Year by the Birmingham Law Society, Gareth has acquired an exceptionally high profile, both nationally and internationally, in the financial services sector in acting for large groups of investors who have received negligent financial advice and who have been financially devastated as a result of collapsed funds and schemes. Gareth has in-depth experience in a wide variety of failed funds and investments such as Harlequin, Arch Cru, Keydata Investment Services Limited, ARM, Stirling Mortimer, Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes (UCIS), Sustainable Growth Group, Alpha Bank – Cyprus, Green Oil, to name but a few. His quote:


“The best investments are boring.”


3) Read a lot, but the right books!


Robin Powell, a freelance journalist, reporter, and documentary maker for Sky News, ITV News, and the Politics Show on BBC1. He campaigned for better investor education and greater transparency in global asset management. His blog is one of the most followed in UK financial services — The Evidence-Based Investor and Adviser 2.0.


“Once you factor in fees and charges, actively managed funds subtract value for investors rather than adding it. If you really, really want to use an active fund — and there’s overwhelming evidence that you shouldn’t — look for one that 1. has a low AMC and 2. keeps its trading costs to a minimum. The less you pay, the more you keep for yourself. It really is that simple.”


We highly recommend this book if you want to know how to invest your own money.


How to Fund the Life You Want: What everyone needs to know about savings, pensions and investments, by Robin Powell and Jonathan Hollow.


‘I’m often asked to recommend a good, essential book on investments within the UK tax and legal system. Until now, there wasn’t one. This book is now my go-to pick.’ - Steve Conley, CEO, Academy of Life Planning, and former Head of Investments, HSBC.



In short, then, retail investors are best served by:

  • Simple
  • Diversified
  • Low-cost
  • Boring
  • Index funds

To this, we would add auto-rebalancing. You buy and go live your life. You may be tempted to try and do better. We say, don’t waste your time.


Why is this important?


According to the Financial Conduct Authority, 27.7m adults in the UK have characteristics of vulnerability, such as poor health, low financial resilience, or recent adverse life events. That’s nearly half of us. Adults with more vulnerable characteristics are more susceptible to scammers.


Steve Conley is also in the asset recovery business. He co-founded The Fraud Team. He is the CEO of Asset Recovery (UK) Ltd. He has witnessed many people lose their life savings to scammers; the impacts on their lives can be devastating. Countless victims commit suicide.


Generic financial planners never hold client money. They never carry out investment-related activities with consumers.


Remember, the people you hand over your money to need to be registered and regulated. Always check in advance the firms or persons you're dealing with when handing over your savings are listed on the FCA Register.


The advice is to check whether an investment company is a genuine FCA-regulated advice firm. For anyone you are going to hand over money to, you must first do the following:

  • Do check on the FCA Website.
  • Don’t talk to anyone on the phone about investments.
  • You’re not going to find an excellent investment on the internet.
  • Scammers imitate regulated advice firms (even my firm!).
  • Don’t trust anyone to be who they say they are. Verify their identity by calling back the actual company.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it undoubtedly is.

Instead, you should sign up for verified independent public research from Which Money. Choose a (boring) investment platform from the survey, check that you are on a legitimate FCA-verified site by the address (not a scammers site), call them if in doubt, and take it from there.


What about independent advisers?


You may be told to seek independent financial advice first if in doubt. And check the FCA register. There are many great IFAs out there doing a terrific job. But according to the FCA, there are also a few bad actors to avoid who are registered and regulated that are hard to spot.


Make your own decision on this one. But here’s what we found and why we chose to be generic.


IFAs are not independent of products; that’s how they get paid.


That puts some pressure on them to sell a product. Yes, they are regulated, and the consumer protections are in some respects better than general advisers regulated under consumer protection regulations (note you have a private right of action against advisers under consumer protection law that you don’t have with FCA-regulated advisers).


We concluded from our own experience talking to our clients that the investment track record of FCA-regulated investment advisers is not better after charges are considered than market returns available to well-informed investors directly.


Here’s why:

  • Many investment advisers pride themselves on being clever and selling you their story. They hide behind a badge of being regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA must regulate anyone who offers to handle your money. The truth is that 99% of advisers fail to beat the relevant market index with their centralised investment propositions. They don’t add alpha; they take beta away.
  • Gareth’s failed funds and investments include Harlequin, Arch Cru, Keydata Investment Services Limited, ARM, Stirling Mortimer, Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes (UCIS), Sustainable Growth Group, Alpha Bank – Cyprus, and Green Oil, to name but a few. They were all recommended by clever (FCA-regulated) investment advisers.
  • The clients we referred to Gareth had valid indemnity claims against their IFAs. But typically, the IFA had gone bust and had lapsed Professional Indemnity insurance policies, so claims could not be honoured. They declared themselves insolvent to avoid private action, FOS claims were always rejected on all bankrupt distributors, and FSCS compensation was limited. FSCS protection varies depending on the product type; some investment products aren’t protected. Also, there are limits to the amount they can compensate too if the firm fails after 1 Apr 2019 – up to £85,000 per eligible person. Some of our clients told us their IFAs had lost them millions.
  • Failing regulated distributor firms is not uncommon due to the failure of funds or investments they sell. Fund failures have increased, including Keydata, New Star, Arch Cru, Connaught, and the Woodford Equity Income Fund. This happens again and again. There are valid grounds for a claim against the IFA where the investment has been misrepresented, leading the client to make a decision based on incorrect information; Where the advice has been unsuitable to the individual client, whose requirements have not been considered; If the IFA has offered unrealistic guarantees on an investment’s performance; If the IFA did not fully explain the risks involved; If the IFA did not disclose a conflict of interest. The FCA recently estimated that almost one in ten firms it regulates have low levels of financial resilience, which it deemed could be at risk of failure.
  • We believe the financial services sector is profoundly vital to the well-being of society, economic stability and political stability.

    We are huge fans of the sector and what it does when it is behaving correctly. However, there is ample reason for concern about the “mischievous minority” whose malpractice, misconduct, malfeasance and miss-selling lead to bad publicity in the newspapers and on TV. Poor behaviour by a few people and organisations results in a tarnished reputation for the industry. The self-inflicted reputational damage the industry has suffered manifests in many ways – a lack of engagement, trust and much lower levels of saving, investing and insurance protection than there should be. For this reason, we volunteer as significant contributors to the Transparency Task Force, a collaborative campaigning community seeking to bring about positive change in the financial services industry.

  • According to AJ Bell, the most popular investment funds recommended by financial advisers are Vanguard LifeStrategy funds, yes, you guessed it, simple, diversified, low-cost, boring, auto-rebalancing index funds available to consumers direct. After the advice firm has tapped into the product for fees, there is a relative loss for the investor. That’s why intermediation adds no value in a commoditised market.


Financial planning, on the other hand, adds loads of value. Where an IFA includes financial planning, it can add value. We recommend you always talk to a financial planner who is not also an investment adviser.


So, if you are worried about running your own money, don’t be. Sign up for Which Money for DIY investors. And educate yourself.


Get yourself the world’s first customer-directed Open banking-powered financial planning application for DIY planners – HapNav.


And seek additional support from your generic financial planner as and when you need it.


Our initial assumption is most of the time, you should do things for yourself with the right support.


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