The calendars of financial advisers throughout the country have a big circle around 1 July, 2011. That is the date by which, with a few exceptions, any person giving advice on investment products must be an Authorised Financial Adviser (AFA). An adviser who works for a large company, such as a bank, which has been approved as a Qualifying Financial Entity (QFE) may give on advice on products issued or promoted by the QFE without having to be an AFA but is expected to show the same standard of professionalism. To become an AFA, an adviser must meet certain educational requirements, be of good character, join a Dispute Resolution Scheme and follow a Code of Conduct. All this requires time, effort and cost. Advisers have responded to the new regime in a variety of ways. Some have decided to retire, sell their businesses or work under the supervision of an AFA. Commissions are gradually being replaced by fees due to the higher costs of providing quality advice. Many insurance advisers have made the decision not to sell investment products and have sold any existing investment business they have. Product providers have made it clear they will not pay commission on investment products to advisers who are not AFAs. What does all this mean for clients? Firstly, some will find themselves being ‘sold’ by their existing adviser to an AFA. Others may find themselves with no adviser at all if the adviser has had commissions cut or sold their business to a product provider. There will be a shortage of AFAs initially and with higher standards of advice required, and an associated higher cost, clients with small amounts invested may find themselves unwanted by advisers or being charged fees for advice. The changes are good, but they come at a cost.
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There is a worldwide trend for investors to want to make a positive contribution to the world by investing in companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. If you are passionate about the effects of climate change, the scarcity of food and water, and social or environmental policies in general, then you will no doubt wish to ensure that the companies in which you invest are going about their business in a manner that is consistent with your views.