What is an IFA?

An IFA can advise you on all financial products they think meet your needs. They are independent and whole of market, which means they aren't acting on behalf of any particular product, provider, or other body.

They usually work for themselves, acting on behalf of you, the client. This means the advice they give you must be impartial.

IFAs are split into two different categories: independent financial advisers, and restricted advisers. They will need to tell you before your consultation whether they offer whole of market, or restricted advice.

What is a restricted adviser?

Restricted advisers specialise in a single area of personal finance. They offer advice on a limited number of products, or on a specific list of companies.

While the scope of their advice is limited, they are still FCA accredited, and must offer objective advice.

Check what they can do

An IFA will spot areas in your personal finances where improvements can be made, by looking at your current circumstances and understanding your financial goals.

They will take into account your:

They will also look at how you can make your finances more tax efficient. Make sure you know exactly which areas they cover before agreeing to use their service.

After your IFA has assessed your financial circumstances, they may suggest a change in lifestyle rather than recommending that you buy a particular product.

If your IFA gives you bad advice, you can claim compensation from the Financial Ombudsman if things do go wrong.

Know what to look for

The key benefits of a good financial adviser are that they are:

  • Independent: They are a free agent acting on no-one's behalf but you. Even restricted advisers who only advise on a select range of products are accountable, and offer objective advice.

  • Whole of market: This applies to independent financial advisers only. They look at the entire financial market when selecting a product for you, rather than select products or investments from specific providers,

  • Targeted: This applies to restricted financial advisers. They look at products within their specialism to select the best option for you. This lets you focus on a particular product type, if you already know the area you want to look at.

  • Qualified: They need to hold an FCA recognised Diploma in financial planning, an FCA recognised Transitional Qualification, and the Qualification gap-fill. They must also hold a current and valid Statement of Professional Standing (SPS).

  • Experienced: They must have a minimum of one year's supervised, or three years' unsupervised experience in Financial Planning.

  • Regulated: They have to be regulated by the FCA, which you can check by searching for them on the FCA register.

Start your search

Before you begin your IFA search, ask people you know to see if they've used an IFA before, and if they can recommend one.

A good personal recommendation from someone you know who has used an IFA can be invaluable, as it will speak volumes about their character and ability.

Important

If you are recommended an IFA, remember to check them out on the FCA register first to make sure they are properly regulated.

Otherwise, the best place to start is to use a search engine like Unbiased.co.uk. By entering your postcode, you will be shown a list of all the authorised and regulated IFAs in your local area.

The 'Find an IFA' function on the Telegraph website is also a good way to get the ball rolling.

Interview before you commit

Before choosing an IFA, arrange to a short meeting to get to know them a little, and scope out the ways they might be able to help you.

Take current financial information with you, like mortgage, savings, and insurance paperwork. Have a clear idea of what you want your IFA to do, and what your goals are.

The IFA will then be able to look at your financial situation and explain how they can help you if you took them on. Asking the following questions will be useful:

  • Are you an independent, or restricted financial adviser?

  • For restricted advisers: what percentage of the market do you cover, and what specific areas?

  • Are you regulated by the FCA? (Ask to see an in-date SPS certificate, and check the FCA register.)

  • What are your professional qualifications? A Certificate in Financial Planning is the minimum, and a Chartered Financial Planner is the most qualified.

  • What sources do you base your advice on?

  • What are your particular areas of expertise? If there are certain areas you need special assistance in, like investments, ask them about their experience in this area.

  • How do your services work on an ongoing basis, i.e. will there be a monthly or annual review of my finances? Will your advice be mostly face-to-face or over the phone?

  • How long have you been established as an IFA?

  • How much will this all cost? Ask for confirmation of their hourly rates, whether VAT is included in this price, and for an estimate of initial outlay.

Note whether the IFA seems competent and professional, but also if they are personable and genuine. If you don't feel comfortable with them on a personal level, there's no point in pursuing them further, as it will be difficult to establish a long term relationship with them.

Negotiate on cost

Independent and restricted financial advisers need to declare up front what fee they charge for their services, so you can compare and negotiate prices.

This is intended to prevent IFAs from basing advice on vested interests, such as higher commission offered by a particular product.

Knowing the cost up front should also mean you can compare the price of different IFAs before picking the best one for your needs, and make an informed choice.

Exactly what you pay depends on the scope of the advice you need, and the pricing structure you agree with your IFA or restricted adviser.

If you find an IFA you like but that is a little outside your price range, it's always worth asking them whether they would drop their fees to a more affordable rate.

Will you have to pay an up front fee?

You may not have to pay an up front fee, but you will need to agree what fee you'll pay if you go ahead.

In the long run this should prove cheaper than IFAs taking commission from your investment, and it should also make the whole system more transparent.