No More Property “Specialists”; Just Plenty of “Financial Consultants”

I read with interest the Straits Times article – No more property ‘specialists’ from Aug 1 – which describes how regulators are clamming down on misleading titles that property agents are giving themselves such as “specialist” and “experts”. This follows Ministry of Health’s investigation of Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners giving themselves similarly dubious “specialist” titles.

I welcome such regulations as they allow for greater transparency. Such measures are sorely required and overdue in the local financial services industry.

I have discussed about this issue before, and this news report makes me feel a bit of hope that regulators may start to pay attention to misleading titles that are currently being used to sell financial products.

The term “financial consultant” (and related terms such as “planner” or “adviser”) is misleading for the general public who tend to believe that such people are qualified to give proper financial advice. The reality is that you can find such “consultants” outside of shopping malls and MRT stations trying to do “surveys” and at IT conventions offering free gadgets for each policy purchase.

To make things clearer for the layperson, such fanciful titles should be scrapped and replaced with accurate titles. Tied representatives of insurance companies should be named “Tied Insurance Agent of Company XXX” or to similar effect. Representatives of non-independent financial adviser firms should be clearly labelled as “Non-Independent”. Of course, even Independent Financial Adviser representatives should explain exactly how independent they really are (confused yet?).

I am actually more than qualified to have the title of “Associate Financial Consultant” given by a non-profit financial practitioners association (instead of just a fancy title given by insurance companies to their agents), but I have so far refused to apply for it. Firstly, the term “financial consultant” has already been sullied by all the “financial consultants” we have. Secondly, the exam for it was exceedingly basic that I do not feel that it is a strong achievement. Nevertheless, few people in the industry bother to take such an exam and even fewer amongst those who do really put into practice what they have learnt, merely using the titles to bolster their sales credibility.

Last but not least – the title is an Associate title. Imagine spending time, money and effort to pass the examination only to be a lesser form of a “Financial Consultant” – a term that almost anyone can obtain by joining an insurance company. The Associate term does reflect the rudimentary examination, which simply affirms my belief that people who have not even passed this simple exam should not be called a “financial consultant” in the first place.

Controlling the titles may not completely deter people determined to profit at the expense of others, but it is a start, just like in the medical and property sectors. Regulators, are you listening? Hello?

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2 responses.

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  • Reply
    Rich Seet said 1018 days ago:

    Totally agree – one would think that after the highnotes issue, the regulators would have thought more about things like this.

    From a client’s perspective, another benefit of having regulated titles would be the quantification of differing levels of expertise and the corresponding differing levels of legal liability which these financial workers would be exposed to. For example, an ‘Independent Financial Adviser’ would be expected to have a greater level of expertise than a ‘Insurance Agent of Company X’ and therefore be exposed to greater liability. This gives two major correlated benefits: first, it keeps those who make themselves out to be ‘Financial Advisers’ on their toes, second, clients would likely select a ‘Financial Adviser’ over an ‘Insurance Agent’ knowing that they have the weapon of a lawsuit in their arsenal. Just some thoughts, not sure if I’m making sense!

    • Reply
      Seth said 1017 days ago:

      That’s a good suggestion. In fact, there is already greater consumer protection for those who deal with Independent Financial Advisers. For example, recommendations made by the rest of the industry only need to be “reasonable” which is easy to fulfil. An IFA needs to provide not only “reasonable” but also “fair and objective” advice.

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