10 Steps: Is Your Financial Adviser A Buying Or Selling Agent?

Steve Conley

Channel 4’s Location Location presenters and property experts, Kirstie and Phil, “… offer practical advice and support to those wishing to find their perfect home. Searching across the country, they hunt for the best deals and locations, from cottages in the countryside to houses in the City, Kirstie and Phil have seen it all.”

Imagine if the rest of the Financial Industry worked like this?

Kirstie and Phil are buying agents. Buying agents typically offer their services at the high-end of the property market with ads like this:

“We’re uniquely placed to help you find your dream home. We source the very best city and country, waterside, character and period properties, most of which are not on the open market. Unlike our competitors we are completely independent, with no affiliation or ties with estate agents, no conflicts of interest whatsoever. Our only loyalty is to you.”

“Unlike estate agents we work for the buyer, not the seller, which puts us in the business of finding out exactly what it is our clients are after.”

Who pays the buyer’s agent their fees or commission?

The short answer is that the buyer pays the buyer’s agent their fees or commission. These fees are generally around 1% to 3% of the purchase price of the property and they are payable when the contract goes unconditional. Some buyer’s agents may charge a small fee upfront or they may charge 50% of the fee upfront. But most buyer’s agents would charge a small fee upfront and then the bulk of the payment will happen when your contract goes unconditional.

If the search was for a £1m property rather than a £500k property, would you expect the fee to be twice as much? If not, there are fixed fee options.

There are buyer’s agents who charge fixed fees of around £5,000 to £15,000 and it really just depends on the buyer’s agent that you go with. But at the end of the day you are going to be paying the buyer’s agent if you are the buyer because the buyer’s agent is working for you in order to help you find, research and purchase a successful property that may be your home or maybe an investment property. So they are working for you, they are generally not getting a commission on the sale of the property and so therefore they are just getting paid by you so they are working for your interest therefore they need to be paid and generally they are going to be paid by you.

If they were to be paid an Estate Agent commission, I’m sure you’d want to know about it in advance, and you’d expect it to be taken into consideration when charging you. If they were to be paid referral fees by law firms, removal firms, surveyors, and the like, I’m sure you’d want to know about that too. It’s the same with the rest of financial services.

How would you feel if they were paid by the Estate Agent a percentage based on the price you pay for the property? How would that influence the price negotiation. And, how would you feel if the Estate Agent paid your adviser a percentage every year you stayed in the property. Would you question it and wonder what that was for?

If the agent published the fee on their website, would that make you feel any better? If they disclosed it in your initial phone call, would that ease your concerns? If they told you that it wasn’t a commission, it is a contingent property search charge, would you feel reassured?

So, here’s my question for this post. Is your Independent Financial Adviser a buying agent or a selling agent?

IFAs call themselves “Independent” which would suggest they are. But all that means is they can act as selling agent for the whole of market, rather than being tied or restricted to just a few product companies. It doesn’t mean they are a buying agent.

All IFAs are financial intermediaries. The truth is, they all hold agency agreements with the product providers whose products they sell. Which makes them selling agents. What’s more, few agree to sign up to voluntary fiduciary duties, which is a legal obligation to put your best interest first. You rarely find the commitment you might see from buying agents in the real estate industry.

IFAs generally take an upfront fee (adviser charge) around 1% to 3% of the product they sell, plus an ongoing charge of between 0.25% and 1% per annum on the product you hold with them.

Some may describe this as a “fixed fee”, when clearly there’s nothing fixed about it. For some the payment is payable when the product is bought (conditional adviser charge), making the advice element appear free.

Lack of transparency on job descriptions, and the bundling of buyer and seller fees and services, could be costing you a small fortune. If you had greater transparency and clarity on whose best interest your adviser serves, yours, theirs or the providers, and a separation of fees and services, you would be well placed to make better decisions.

Wouldn’t it be clearer if there was a wall between advice and product? If someone who said they were an adviser was a buying agent? Someone who said they were an intermediary was a selling agent.

There is little to separate advice (buying) and product (selling) fees or services in the UK retail investment market. Services are bundled. Buying and selling costs are bundled. Invoices are not broken down and itemised. You are told you are paying for one service (buying), then you are charged as if for another (selling).

Seven years after the ban on commissions on UK retail investments, you might think things would be clearer. According to Which?, nine out of ten financial advisers still express their advice fees as a percentage of the products they sell you.

That would perhaps be okay if the adviser was just meant to be selling you a product. But the adviser, or financial planner, is not meant to be selling you product. By definition, they are meant to be selling you advice. Or a plan. Or happiness.

Take a look at what money can’t buy. Then ask yourself if these should be missing from your advice or plan.

“It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.” – George Lorimer, Publisher.

Imagine this customer proposition from your adviser.

“We’re uniquely placed to help you find your dream life. Unlike our competitors we are completely independent, with no affiliation or ties with product providers, no conflicts of interest whatsoever. Our only loyalty is to you. Unlike selling agents we work for the buyer, not the seller, which puts us in the business of finding out exactly what it is our clients are after.”

One way to find out whether your adviser is an agent for the seller, or the buyer, is to look at the way they are paid. How much are you paying for advice, and how much for product? And, how much can you save on adviser charges by taking a DIY approach to products?

Imagine paying your adviser a fixed fee of £1,000. You opt to go it alone and run your own investment on a DIY website. You choose the cheapest index tracking funds. Check your advice firm will accommodate this. If they do, you can be sure they are a buying agent.

If your investment was £200,000. The initial fee saved is between £1,000 and £5,000. The annual fee saved is between £500 and £2,000. After 25 years, you could put 30% more in your life savings (assumes investment growth of 6% per annum). That’s how important knowing the difference can be!

In this day and age, with all the red-tape and regulation, you might expect greater clarity in charges when it comes to your finances; and you might hope to understand with absolute clarity what it is you are paying for; but the reality stops far short of that. The reality is that despite all the regulatory changes, whether your adviser is acting in your best interests or not is less than clear.

Fees are all bundled up, with lack of clarity and separation over what services you are buying and who is acting for whom.

Many advisers can’t even answer a simple question, like am I paying for advice or the product?

A good financial adviser should make all costs and charges explicit to you at outset. So, you know exactly what you are paying and will pay in the future.

In September 2018, Which? Magazine found that only one in five advisers (20%) publish the full details of their charges on their website. A further 34% gave a rough cost. 46% gave no information whatsoever on their website.

When customers picked up the phone, 87% of advisers were willing to provide details of fees on the initial phone call, 62% without prompting.

But, here’s the thing.

Almost eight in ten advisers (79%) took their upfront advice fee as a percentage of the product purchased. And, almost nine in ten (87%) took their ongoing advice fee as a percentage of the product purchased.

Upfront fees averaged between one and three percent of the investment. Ongoing fees, between a quarter and one percent per annum.

Why should an advice fee be calculated as a percentage of product purchased? On large pots, you would not expect advice fees to rise proportionately. But, in nine out of ten cases they do.

What are they doing for the fee? You’d better be getting a good ongoing service.

To begin with, let us understand the services on offer from a financial adviser. There is the advice, which normally involves a financial plan of some sort. Then there is the product recommendation, brokerage service or intermediation. Then there is the product itself.

Now a vertically integrated firm, one that provides all three services, may quote one combined price. The price you pay may even be contingent on you purchasing a product. You pay on completion of product purchase. They may even describe the advice as free. Not much clarity here!

Intermediaries. Those that provide advice and intermediation. You might expect them to charge a fixed fee for the advice. But as you can see, eight out of ten take a fee based on the percentage of product recommended, and nine out of ten take an annual percentage to run the product for you.

Why does only 10 percent of adviser charges relate to the advice and up to 90 percent of adviser charges have to come from the products they sell you? Perhaps this is the best way to determine whether the adviser is a buying agent or a selling agent. Surely a buying agent would charge a fixed fee!

Here’s an idea I had to restore trust and confidence in the advice industry, for you to trust that you are getting what you pay for with none of those conflicts of interest.

A wall between advice and product.

Explicit disclosure of advice fee and product fee. Clear description and breakdown of service. Clear disclosure on whether your adviser is a buying agent or a selling agent.

Here are 10 things we can do to make financial advice more transparent:

  1. Separate advice and product. A clear wall between advice and product. Clear labels. We do this by having financial intermediaries defined as selling agents, holding agency agreements with product providers. And, non-intermediating financial planners who act as buying agents (buying a better plan, not a product), and not holding agency agreements with product providers, as their clients have decided to go the DIY route.
  2. Advisers banned from running products. Advice firms that put themselves out as buying agents should be banned from running inhouse investment propositions and prohibited from using customer money to run these products. We must end the practice of advisers running products to make money.
  3. Advisers are paid to advise. For buying agents, only 10% of income should come from implementation and ongoing management of those assets under advice or influence. Currently, over 90% does!
  4. Prohibit product providers from having controlling interest in advice firms. If they did, then clearly the firm is a selling agent of the product provider.
  5. Give advice firms a year to decide whether they would become a buying agent or selling agent.
  6. Keep selling agents as regulated. Keep buying agents as unregulated, to keep costs to a minimum and bridge the advice gap.
  7. Ban the use of the term adviser or planner for agents of vertically integrated firms. These agents are clearly selling agents.
  8. Prohibit buying agents from having agency agreements with product providers.
  9. Ban contingent adviser charges. Clearly such charges are contingent selling agent charges, not adviser charges, or in Plain English the Commission that was meant to be banned seven years ago.
  10. Prohibit buying agents from taking initial or ongoing fees as a percentage of assets under advice or influence.

Professional bodies can step up to the plate to hold buying agents accountable to codes and oaths. See my white paper here: https://www.transparencytaskforce.org/market-integrity-team/

Until then, my advice is, find a genuine independent financial adviser who will look after your best interests. Take your time about this. Talk to several. Have them explain every penny of costs involved. Have them explain the breakdown of services to you and their associated charges. Have them prove that your interests are aligned.

 “Unlike intermediaries we work for the buyer, not the seller, which puts us in the business of finding out exactly what it is our clients are after.” – Steve Conley is the founder of the non-intermediating financial planning firm, the Academy of Life Planning.


Mind the Gap: A personal journey towards bridging the advice gap.

The Advice Gap: 95% of the population are underserved and disintermediated by the adviser population on account of their limited wealth.

The Adviser Gap: 95% of advisers have disappeared in a generation. From a peak of 400,000 towards the end of the last century, to just 25,000 today (with half set to retire in the next 10 years).

Would you agree that where there is high demand in a big market but a lack of supply, and imagine if a model emerges that can operate in that segment profitably … then that would be interesting? Right?

Well I’ve been a leading proposition architect and business development expert for over 30 years, and here’s why I think there’s an interesting opportunity emerging.

Let me tell you … why listen to me?

It was 1993, at the HQ of Refuge Assurance in Wilmslow, Cheshire. I was in my office, as Pensions Department Manager. Jenny, head of training walked in and told me that out of a salesforce of 1200, not a single person had passed the new pension transfer course. I said leave it to me, I’ll get them through it. I went out into the field with a trace of a grin on my face. If I worried I hid it. I started to sing, as I tackled the thing, that couldn’t be done. And I did it. They asked me to carry on in the field supporting advisers.

It was 2000, at the Wilmslow HQ of United Assurance (previously Refuge Assurance now merged with United Friendly). I was in my office, as Pensions Development Manager. Ashley, the Sales Director, told me he was firing all the advisers. I was surprised given that I’d grown the pensions business four-fold in as many years. 100,000 Insurance Company reps lost their jobs across the industry. Blaming regulation and inefficiency in the advice model. The insurance companies exited the market. I quit and joined Bancassurance.

For the next 12 years, I grew salesforce after salesforce for several firms. I developed six market leaders. Six market firsts. Multiple-prize-winning. I was the Proposition Architect and Business Development Director for tens-of-thousands of advisers, across three of the five biggest banks – bancassurance, corporate, and independent. Including a stint as BDD for the UK’s fourth largest IFA network.

In 2011, as Head of Investments for the world’s largest bank HSBC, I had now become the go-to-authority in my field. Eight out of ten investors still use my products today. I’d even won an award for the best product in the world, which saved five-million lives, was launched with 50 MPs present and my first client was the Pope. Could it get any better?

To trump that I chose to attempt to solve the industry’s biggest problem. What mattered most to customers mattered least to bankers, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer we were the least trusted profession in the world.

I then looked for the best and most TRUSTED advice model in the world. I trained in that. Became a Master. Trained advisers for Kinder. The biggest and best financial planning trainer in the world.

It was Dec 2011. I was at the HQ of HSBC in Canary Wharf. In one of those small grey meeting rooms you see on the Apprentice, with my boss David. David told me that he was firing all advisers, despite me having trained, tested and proved a Trusted Adviser model that was 10-times more profitable for the bank. 10,000 bancassurance reps lost their jobs across the industry. Blaming regulation and inefficiency in the advice model. The Banks exited the market. I quit to go independent.

It was 2014. I’d set up the Academy of Life Planning two years previously, to help independent advisers, and had been an IFA for a couple of years as well. When an opportunity presented to join forces with George Kinder, I was a co-founder of LifeSpire. A National & International Life Planning Firm.

But asking boutique independent advisers to join a large national/ international firm was like herding cats. An INTERMEDITING financial planning NATIONAL was not the answer.

I have continued planning clients and training advisers to this day.

It was Spring of 2019. Nigel, the boss at the firm where I held my FCA licence to intermediate, called me at my home office. My clientele lived all over the world, and I had long since moved operations on-line. His PI insurance premium had gone up 500%, and he was looking at options. One was a sell-out option; Nigel said the compliance team of prospective purchasers had advised that he had to remove me from the books as it was so long since I intermediated. As the need to intermediate had long-since disappeared from my business model, I agreed. This cut my links to FCA, I became a non-regulated financial planner.

I had developed my own financial planning system. Adding bits here and there along the way, bits that I thought were missing. The result was The GAME Plan. Putting everything I had learnt over 30 years plus into one system, so you don’t have to!

I launched my book in June 2019, Your Money or Your Life: Unmask the highway robbers – enjoy wealth in every area of your life.

I now run events around the world and online and train advisers on this. One adviser won Times best IFA for 2019 and 2020. Peter Johnys.

But my model had become Non-intermediating Financial Planning.

I set up LinkedIn Group and focused the Academy on being the world’s first Non-intermediating Financial Planning Network.

I was doing my Proposition Architect and Business Development Director bit again, this time for Non-intermediating Financial Planners.

People around the world started joining the Academy and buying my books. Sweden, United States, Singapore, Hongkong.

Then the ex “Man from the Pru” started to join us. The displaced 400,000 insurance company reps and bancassurance advisers I talked about, finally had a route to set up their own business doing something they enjoyed and were good at …

Serving the underserved. Being non-intermediating for the disintermediated.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. March 2020.

Intermediaries were furloughed.

But non-intermediating financial planners could easily deliver online. And, thrive. Globally. Country boundaries matter little in a non-intermediating advice model.

My highlight. I’m so proud that Justin joined us, the UK’s lead trainer with the Kinder Institute.

So, it’s a work in progress. It’s early days. But we are heading in the right direction.

I’m a proposition architect and business development director of 30 plus years’ experience, now delivering an online global network of non-intermediating financial planners.

Helping a global village of underserved and disintermediated, facing a global life and money emergency, escape with a life and money exit plan delivered directly to their home.

So, I have tens-of-thousands of satisfied advisers who I have trained … ho can now set up their business or side-line business doing what they love.

Should you choose to join us today?

You will be one of the first to be trained on The GAME Plan Generator.

Mind The Adoption Gap

Where do you come on the innovation adoptive cycle?

For more information visit:


“My, what big teeth you have financial adviser!”

“All the better to eat you with my dear!” … as the financial intermediary said to Little Red Riding Hood.

How much longer do we have to put up with this charade? This pretence, that everyone is who they say they are. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

How many more scams and scandals are to get through the net of many layers of ineffective and expensive bureaucratic regulation, resulting in masses of intermediated victims awaiting redress having lost everything; there have even been some that have paid the ultimate price for the criminal activities of monstrous individuals that have tricked them out of their life savings and pension funds.

The innocent majority of market counterparties and consumers are paying a heavy price for the poor conduct of the “mischievous few” in the financial services sector. Because we allow it.

Let us say it as it is. Intermediaries have been allowed to dress up as planners and advisers for decades, if not centuries. We have all turned a blind eye.

And, then the wolf disappears into Mr Ben’s closet and transforms into a recovery room scammer.


Grotesque wrongs are taking place ‘under our very noses’ right now.

Here is the thing. Intermediaries are brokers. They are agents of the product providers. The vast majority refuse to sign up to fiduciary duties to have a legal obligation to put client best interest first. Yet, still put themselves out as acting on the side of the consumer. And, this is all above board and legal. I say it is immoral.

We have advised intermediation. Non-advised intermediation. We even allow intermediation between retail customers and non-regulated products. These are intermediaries!

Yes, financial planners can be intermediaries, and good ones at that! But, here the waters begin to muddy, interests become conflicted with reward, as we so often see in news headlines. Do we ever stop and ask, does the consumer truly understand who we are and our relationship with them?

Not many of you have heard of this. There are financial planners who remove intermediation from the agenda. Non-intermediating financial planners are simply financial planners. The client gets what it says on the tin, accurately, clearly, and transparently.

Yes. You can still be Chartered and Professional as a NIFP.

Here’s the thing. Clear water. Not muddy water.

A wall between advice and product.

Non-intermediating financial planners sell plans, not products.

No intermediation, means no mis selling. As no products are sold. The product is the advice.

Let’s stop calling brokers and intermediaries … advisers or planners.

Let’s call things as they really are. Save all the confusion. Save the losses. Even save lives.

If you’d like to know more about non-intermediating financial planners why not visit our website, or join our free LinkedIn Group, Non-intermediating Financial Planners Network.


Financial Planning Transplant: How To Lift and Drop FP Into A Non-Reg FP Business

You may well ask, “Why would an IFA join this chap, instead of just setting up another company to do the FP work?” Here’s why.

Many a financial adviser has discussed over a beer, at some time or other, going non-regulated with their financial planning business. Fed up with all the red-tape and asking, “Can I lift my Financial Intermediary model and drop it into a Non-Intermediating Financial Planning business?”

To answer the question, we must first consider the two types of financial planning businesses. There is the traditional Financial Intermediary, and there is the emerging Non-Intermediating Financial Planner.

The two models are hugely different. The Academy argues that, you cannot just take the ISO22222 business model of intermediation and drop it into a non-regulated non-intermediating financial planning firm. You must start again. Here is why.

Financial Intermediation (FI)

Intermediation is a regulated activity under most jurisdictions and territories. The intermediary is paid commission, or adviser fees contingent on transactions (same thing). Or, the adviser fee is expressed as a fixed fee percentage of assets under management, and deduction from the product may be facilitated. The adviser holds agencies with product providers. There is a focus on products and product transactions (buy and sell). The adviser gives opinions on or recommendations relating to specific advice on specific products. This can result in the adviser’s interests conflicting with those of the client. The intermediary may offer a product management service (vertical integration). Product. Product. Product.

Non-Intermediating Financial Planning (NIFP)

The NIFP does not intermediate. The service is a non-regulated activity. Fees quoted are time and/ or knowledge based. They sell plans, not products. No agencies are held with product providers. No products are managed. No referral agreements are in place to receive referral fees. The client self-transacts, the adviser educates. Advice is generic about specific or generic products, akin to answering exam questions. Information is factual, opinions are absent. Conflicted interests are avoided.

No product.

The Product Paradigm

At the turn of the century we witnessed the demise of home service, with the disappearance of insurance company representatives, which at its height numbered 400,000 agents. A decade later and we witnessed the disappearance of tens of thousands of bancassurance advisers. Now, we are witnessing the disappearance of boutique independents, as we have little over 25,000 regulated individuals hanging on to increasingly burdensome and costly practices, with half set to retire in the next decade. That is almost 95% of the supply chain for financial intermediating, gone in a few decades.

And, 95% of the population left underserved, holding less than threshold level investable assets facing a global economic and social emergency.

Transparency had proven a strong disinfectant, as evidence emerged that the hidden cost of intermediation far outweighed the benefits, as the late Jack Bogle, liked to say, “nobody knows nothing”.

Armies of ex-FI’s left high and dry. Populations of disintermediated, abandoned. The end of a paradigm.

What was wrong with it all?


What mattered least to the bankers mattered most to their clients. What mattered more to unaccountable hierarchies was value extraction, perpetrated by the supposition of the FI planning model.

“Accumulate for the best part of 50 years on the bet you can buy freedom in the last 16.”

Everything was measured by a price tag. The pension pots. The sum assured. The critical yield. Nothing else mattered.

Exhaustive for the client. Often destructive, where planning stages were missed. Selling product. Mis selling products. Treating the money as the client, and not the customer.

Let me introduce a new paradigm.

Non-Intermediating Financial Planning.

Treat the client as the customer, and not the money.

Plan the client first, then put in place the financial architecture to support them.

Here there is a productive planning cycle, of repeated mini cycles of succession, decumulation, crystallisation, preservation, and accumulation … as the client lives a life well lived. And, creates a meaningful life and something bigger than themselves.

The opposite to the exhaustive cycles proffered by the parasitic wealth extraction industry.

There is a focus on exposing the highway robbers and creating wealth in every area of the client’s life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial.

Here, plans are sold, not products.

What if, there was a wall between advice and product?

“If you don’t have a plan, you become part of someone else’s.” – Terence Kemp McKenna

Here we can employ the armies of ex-FIs to serve the populations of disintermediated with an NIFP model, that’s very different …

Instead of feeling stuck in a rut … this model delivers the client from suffering to wisdom, to security, to freedom, to a lasting legacy.

This new paradigm requires a new way of thinking. A new way.

It can be delivered online.

It can be delivered from anywhere to anywhere. From any point in the global village to any other.

Here’s the thing …

If you plan the money before you plan the client the process is exhaustive for the client … it diminishes the life of the client to a number.

If you miss out planning the money … or miss out planning the life … the outcome is destructive for the client.

If the plan is someone else’s … that’s just highway robbery.

If you plan the client’s life before you plan the money the result is productive.

This is the productive cycle from creation to manifestation, I call the GAME Plan.

NIFP is the reverse of the FI.

That’s why you can’t just lift and drop FP into a Non-Reg FP business.

That’s why you should join our Adviser Network, instead of just setting up another company to do the FP work.

The Academy of Life Planning is a Global Online Non-Intermediating Financial Planning Network, we provide professional help and support for our global community of life & money planners serving a native and/or expat clientele across UK, Europe, Asia, and USA.