Brits abroad are prey for poor advice

It must be the warm weather that brings them out. It’s February and 15 degrees in Switzerland, bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight. And the phone’s ringing.

It’s yet another cold call, the fifth this week, from one of the earnest young Britons hired in droves by the usually greedy, often desperate financial services organisations that reside in lightly-regulated financial markets around the world.

Wherever you find Britons working abroad, you’re sure to find a cluster of these financial outfits, mostly managed by oleaginous shysters who couldn’t hack it in London, and staffed by ingenues with barely a grasp of finance know-how beyond the obligatory in-house crash-course in hard-selling.

The typical telephone caller is a year or two out of college or university. Some basic work experience. An intensive week-long ‘familiarisation’ course, usually somewhere sunny. And that’s it. A typical caller’s bio reads like the one pictured, above.

Self regulation? LOL!

Ask any of these youngsters about the regulation under which their outfit operates and the answer is always the same: “We’re covered by the comprehensive [insert any country name here] self-regulatory system overseen by [insert three or four letter acronym of some random financial regulator here].”

The key word is “self-regulatory”. Self regulation does not work in financial services. It never has. It’s a bit like asking a burglar to manage a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. In many countries the regulation of financial services for foreigners is a joke and there is no regulation worth its salt. It is a Wild West. No matter whether it’s Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany – wherever Britons move to take up work, these people follow, like parasitic worms feeding off the otherwise healthy.

Ask about their qualifications and the hapless advisor will tell you they are “highly” qualified. In truth, they may have passed the very basic level 1 or 2 ‘qualification’, something that you could frankly buy on the Internet or obtain after a few hours’ study – and certainly nothing like enough to work as a financial adviser in the UK.

Truth be told, many of the people who cold-call me are on commission-only earnings and they don’t survive more than a few months (whatever their savings will withstand) before being spat out of an industry which has a churn figure in the high double figures. But their successor will surely call me, as will their replacement, and so on.

If you’re interested, check out this FT article: “British Expats, your financial adviser may well be a bandit.”