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.

LinkedIn is their bible

When the phone isn’t ringing, my LinkedIn profile gets a really good going-over. Why? It’s their bible. I’ve posted articles there that make it clear I’m not buying anything. But still they come. The latest trawler? A young man who has three years’ experience selling second-hand cars in the UK and only arrived in Switzerland about two months ago, according to his own profile anyway (it’s his in the picture, above).

You have to admire their persistence. They rarely take ‘no’ for an answer. And, sorry to say, the only thing that works is to be rude or hang up the phone. Or both. A colleague has even mooted the possibility of inviting the adviser for a meeting and making them wait – for hours. Time is money, after all, and perhaps when we’ve wasted some of theirs, they’ll start to get the message.

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


Why online estate agents aren’t worth it


Imagine you’re buying a house, you see an ideal place on a leading property portal and then make an appointment to view with the estate agent.

If you’re dealing with one of the 10,500 or so members of the National Association of Estate Agents then the chances are you’ll speak to a real person in a real office who’s knows the vendor and has a personal stake in getting the property seen by as many people as possible. If you don’t, well, you’ll take your chances… Continue reading

What did you do in the great financial crash, grandad?

Reuters European HQ in Canary Wharf London, pictured in 2006
I remember asking my grandfather what he’d done in the Second World War and his answer held me spellbound.

Whether tales of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 that more or less kicked off ten years ago today will similarly capture children’s imagination in years to come seems unlikely, even though its lessons are arguably not too much less significant for future generations.

Why? Because failing to learn the lessons of the past bodes ill for an ever more integrated global financial system and world economy, and that means his, your, my – our wealth and prosperity. Continue reading

Corporate culture and respect for all

Obama fist pumps a White House cleanerYou can tell a lot about an organisation by how its leaders treat their most junior colleagues.

As a newly hired writer on a financial magazine back in the 1990s, I was summoned in my second week for lunch with the senior partner of one of the UK’s leading accountancy firms. As my soup grew cold, he took me to task for my title’s ‘attitude’ to his firm, berating me for the numerous apparent editorial transgressions of colleagues. Continue reading