Price Is What You Pay – Value Is What You Get

With pension charges back in the news again last week following the governments decision to delay the cap on charges for auto enrolment schemes, perhaps now is a good time to consider value, rather than price. In the famous words of Warren Buffet “price is what you pay, value is what you get”.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not excusing, nor defending, overly high or punitive pension scheme charges. In fact, I am one of the strongest proponents of better value pension savings vehicles. It does seem however, that in our never-ending quest to make all financial products cheaper, that we have forgotten all about value for money. Surely this should be the deciding factor.

Lets illustrate this with a simple example and assume for a second that both options are similar in terms of risk profile and financial strength. Fund A charges 1.5% per annum and generates a return of 8%, fund B charges 1% but only delivers a return of 4%. All other things being equal, I will choose fund A thank you very much.

Now clearly the above example is quite extreme, but the principle is sound. It should be the value for money of a particular scheme that we are questioning, not the fee itself.  Part of any good fund analysis should take into account the level of charges made by the fund manager, and the additional performance that the manager has generated (or, heaven forbid, subtracted) from the fund. Only then can we get a true idea of the value for money that the proposed investment represents.

While the government is right to look into the cost of pension plans for workers under the auto enrolment regime, surely it should be value for money, and not cost alone that is the primary focus of any review.

How To Become A Financial Expert

On Friday the Times ran a 4 page pull out which was entitled “how to become a financial expert”. Now this in itself doesn’t sound like a bad idea, after all, who wouldn’t want to be more informed about their money. What I would question, however, is just how much of an “expert” you are expected to become.

To put things into context, I am the proud holder of no less than 12 financial planning qualifications, which have a combined suggested study time of well over 1500 hours. I am also in the process of studying for two more! Combine this with many years of experience, countless hours of technical research and a rigorous continuing professional development programme and I don’t think I am blowing my trumpet too much if I refer to myself as someone who knows a thing or two about finance.

To expect others to possess this level of knowledge and experience is clearly un-realistic. For example, when researching an ISA recommendation (which is quite simple in the grand scheme of things) for a client, I was presented with no less than 240 options and variables. To arrive at a suitable recommendation took several hours of analysis. I would suggest that for someone who does not do this each and every day, the time required would be considerably more and the outcome probably not the very best solution available.

When I need advice on an employment contract, I seek assistance from a corporate lawyer. If I need to check if my proposed house purchase is a good investment, I ask a chartered surveyor to produce a report. I seek help from these professionals because I am well aware that I lack the knowledge, skills, qualifications and experience to do the work myself.

I think it is unlikely that next weekend the papers will run a pull out called “how to become your own legal expert” or “how to do your own structural survey”, so why should financial planning be any different. In the same way that I felt I had received extremely good value for money when a Chartered Surveyor told me that a house I was planning to purchase had subsidence, my clients feel that I have added significant value to their financial situation and are happy to pay for that service.

While I agree that we should all be a bit better informed when it comes to our finances, surely this would be best achieved by working in conjunction with an experienced professional, rather than going it alone!

We Could All Learn A Thing Or Two From Dave

As someone who takes a keen interest in all things financial, I always make a point of watching the programmes on channel 4 which follow the attempts of Dave Fishwick to make the financial world a more straightforward and friendly place. I find Dave highly amusing and uplifting with his seemingly never ending high sprits and a level of determination that would have Churchill quaking in his boots.

Those who saw his previous two shows would have seen how he took on the big high street banks and came up with his own local bank based on old fashioned values. The simplicity of the service he offers has to be seen to be believed. You can deposit money at 5% and borrow for slightly more, and that’s about it. No huge contracts, no industry jargon, just a simple, efficient service. The whole operation runs from a small shop front with a few hard working people crammed behind a single desk. There are no trading floors, no high-rise towers, just a man with a good set of ideals trying to help people in his community.

What really strikes me about the service that Dave offers is that it is highly personal. He gets to know his customers and makes decisions about lending based on relationships rather than computers and credit reference files. He also helps the businesses he lends money to develop, providing his expertise and time, all as part of the service.

I think a lot of businesses in the financial world could learn a thing or two from Dave, I know I certainly have, which is why we try to make things as straightforward as possible for our clients. I can’t promise a single interest rate or just one piece of paper, but what I will promise is a concise, efficient service without all of the complexity and jargon that normally surrounds the financial world.

Could Inflation Be Back In 2014?

For the first time in four years, inflation has now fallen to the governments 2% target. This was welcome news for the many people who have experienced low (if any) pay rises, coupled with the well publicised rising cost of living. Sadly, the current low rate of inflation has the potential to come to an end before it has even really started.

With the base rate currently set at an historic low and the price of property now rising again faster than people can keep up with, it only seems a matter of time before inflationary pressure returns to the market. Halifax today reported that average property prices rose 7.5% in the 12 months ending in December and that trend looks set to continue. Businesses are reporting record profits just days into the new years reporting season and already there is talk in the media of 3% average pay rises this year.

What this all adds up to is consumers feeling more confident, after all, their property value is now back on the stairway to heaven, they will finally be getting that pay-rise they have been waiting 5 years for and even the good old BBC seems to think the economy is ok. What could possibly go wrong? Well, more confident consumers will likely spend more which in turn will have the impact of increasing prices once again, just as they started to get back under control.

My fear is that perhaps we are a little too confident. Our economic recovery is still in it’s infancy and that base rate will have to increase one day. The risk is that inflation will spike “too soon” triggering a rise in interest rates that will bring the country back to earth with a bump when it realises that it does actually cost money to borrow money.

As always, a well-diversified portfolio of asset-backed investments stands the best chance of beating the rate of inflation over the long term. Clients may wish to consider a review of their investments now, before inflation starts to pick up again.

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