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Sheep herding and cattle rustling

I have watched with interest recently as one by one the majority of large Australian financial services companies have had their pants pulled down in public over their financial planning activities.

The media is suddenly up in arms. Politicians are feigning outrage. Class action vultures are circling. Retail banks are divesting their now toxic financial planning and life insurance businesses.

Breaking news: “Commission based sales create a conflict of interest for financial planners.

Shock! Horror! Gasp!

Who knew?!?

This is a story as old as time, the cliché about never asking a barber if you need a haircut.

Buyer beware

Why anybody is at all surprised that products that most enrich the seller are being recommended to the buyer?

Isn’t that exactly the way that capitalism is supposed to work?

  1. The customer perceives a gap in their lives.
  2. Whether real or imagined, the customer sets out on the path to fill that gap.
  3. They educate themselves, possibly by seeking advice, to identify the required product or service.
  4. Always adopting a “trust, but verify” approach they validate their research.
  5. They expend as much (or as little) effort shopping around as their level of interest supports.
  6. Finally, the customer makes an informed purchasing decision, having identified the right tool for the job and sourced it at the best price.

Caveat emptor in a nutshell. Or so the theory goes.

Buyer beware

Buyer beware

Ostrich approach, or is ignorance really bliss?

Does that mean that the consumer masses who load up on cheap nasty disposable crap from the High Street favourites like Poundland or the Reject Shop deserve to be ripped off, simply because they chose cheap over (the potential for) quality?

Had they diligently done their research? Quantified that replacing something cheap every 6 months is more cost effective than buying a better quality substitute that might last for 5 years?

Or, more likely, did they just see some arbitrarily low price tag and think “Bargain!” like the lemmings who get conned into buying more than they need by a “3 for 2” promotion at the supermarket?

How about at the other end of the market, the world of luxury goods?

Does somebody who is willing to drop £1,000 on a mobile phone handset, £10,000 on a first-class plane seat, or £300,000 on a shiny red Ferrari deserve to be ripped off?

Was their purchasing decision carefully researched to identify the equilibrium point at which the quality and cost spectrums intersect in an efficient market?

Or, more likely, were they just conspicuously consuming to impress the Joneses?

In all these examples nobody made the consumer purchase those goods. They had the ability to shop around, to take their business elsewhere, or to not make the purchase at all.

The same is true in most cases of financial services.

Ask an expert

Yet here is the thing.

The main reason mere mortals turn to professionals is to seek advice from somebody who has already done the homework.

Someone with an ongoing obligation to (in theory) remain current in their niche of expertise.

Someone with enough Professional Negligence insurance to cover their clients for any losses incurred as a result of their bad advice.

  • If you want to buy a house you get a conveyancing solicitor to do the legals for you.
  • If you want to get your appendix removed you get a doctor to take it out for you.
  • If you want your taxes done properly you ask a tax accountant to do the job.

All these professionals are supposed to be suitably knowledgeable and competent to perform their respective functions. Unfortunately they are also only human, and if my own experiences over the last 40 years are anything to go by then a large proportion of them will be careless, incompetent and/or lazy.

But that is what there is.

The alternative is to watch a couple of youtube videos then try and remove your own appendix, applying “just in time” learning to become just competent enough to get by. Please don’t try this at home!

Sheep herding…

In the financial services world however the “advisors” are really (for the most part) salespeople. Their job is the herd the sheep into the most lucrative (for them) selection of products from the limited menu of options they have available.

Isn’t a salesperson’s job to spruik whatever product they have been given to sell?

What if the product doesn’t work, or is no good, or ridiculously expensive?

Again capitalism says this is fine.

All things being equal the expensive sellers will be put out of business by their better value competitors.

The incompetent advisors will be found out, and the ensuing reputational harm will cruel their propensity to attract new clients. This is why it is, as it should be, tough to break into a new profession. The absence of that proven track record makes purchasing your services riskier than your better-known competitors.

For mine, if a customer is too cheap, lazy or stupid to do their own homework and subsequently purchase the wrong item and/or at too high a price then that is on them. Darwinism at work.

There is a big exception to this however, and that comes in the form of workplace pensions.

Many employers still restrict the choice of platforms and funds into which an employee can invest. In those cases the employee has only bad choices: don’t invest, invest in the limited range of often expensive funds on offer, or leave the job.

In some cases things can get worse, where an employer restricts the choice to funds they themselves operate. This is pretty common in the financial services world unfortunately. In some cases those funds then purchase shares in the same company that the employee works for. Talk about concentration of risk!

…. and cattle rustling

However if a customer had sought out expert guidance, as appears to be the case in many of the case studies being reported at the financial services inquiry, and still ended up with the wrong item and/or at too high a price then that is a failing of the advisor.

If an “advisor” is a salesperson then they shouldn’t be allowed to offer advice.

Instead they should be allowed to provide an appropriately caveated sales pitch, just like somebody spruiking timeshare vacation accommodation or dubious late-night television exercise equipment.

On the other hand if they really are an “advisor” then they should be paid on a transparent time and materials basis, and not be allowed to receive any form of commission or retention or referral incentives.

Cattle rustling

Sheep herding and cattle rustling. Image credit: Adam Kenny

Conflict of interest

The problem is the conflict of interest created where the relationship between the advisor and the salesperson becomes a commercial one. In those situations, the interests of “mere mortal” consumers are compromised, which isn’t fair to them.

Nor is it fair to the salesperson, who will have been set sales targets and KPIs. Asking anyone to forgo the potential to earn money because it isn’t in the other party’s best interests is a big ask. Asking somebody to waive off a potential sale when their very livelihood depends on making those sales is unrealistic.

Next steps

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Reputational harm

I have been running a business for nearly 20 years.

In the early days there was a lot of friction and hard graft involved in landing clients. We were an unknown entity, full of confidence but without much of track record to support that confidence.

Our first couple of engagements were down to opportunism and desperation on the part of the client. When a pitch meeting begins with “can you start now?” you know you are in a pretty strong negotiating position!

My approach to successfully running a business is pretty simple: Never promise more than we can deliver. And we deliver what we promise. Always.

Before long we no longer had to compete for work. Most engagements came via word of mouth recommendations, either from past clients or people we had worked with on previous projects.

Have skills, will travel

During the first few years, we took on whatever projects we thought we could successfully deliver, including:

  • A telecom billing system in Stockholm.
  • A fraud detection solution in Copenhagen.
  • Real-time vote counting for reality television programs in London.
  • Investment research content and interest matching capability in Tokyo.
  • Rescuing a failed 9/11 disaster recovery effort in New York, ensuring business continuity.
  • Behavioural economics remuneration incentive monitoring study in Melbourne.

The work was varied and interesting.

The more we delivered, the broader our network of people wanting to work with us again became.

Our reputation grew.

Opportunities snowballed, there was more work than we could do.

Build reputation

Opportunities presented themselves as our reputation grew.

Go big, go home, or become choosey

This forced a strategic decision:

  • Expand to meet the demand?
  • Sell out, accepting one of the unsolicited acquisition offers we had started receiving from larger firms?
  • Keep doing what we had been successfully doing?

It was our hard-won reputation that provided these opportunities. Clients engaged us because they knew they could rely on us to make their problem go away. At a fair price.

Create value

Creating value for our clients built our reputation. Image credit: CafeMom.

Not too hot, not too cold, just right

The business had reached a happy medium in terms of size.

Large enough that I had good people reliably doing great work.

Small enough that I still knew what was going on day to day. This meant I could our clients got what they needed (which is not always the same thing as what they thought they wanted!) without any nasty surprises.

I could even lend a hand doing the fun stuff occasionally. That said, I suspect everyone was happier when I concentrated on my job running the business and left those far smarter than me to do the doing!

Decisions, decisions…

I could have scaled out, becoming one of those horrible soulless big consultancies that promise the world, yet underdelivers. Overbudget. And late.

Or sold out to the same.

However the reason we had been successful was we had built a reputation of providing clients with an alternative to the big consultancy experience that inevitably left them feeling like they had been screwed with their pants on.

Reputation is hard to build.

Reputation is easy to lose.

I chose the third option.

This allowed me to pick the most interesting projects from the menu of available opportunities, a pattern that I continue to apply to this day.

Reputation is like a magnet

Another area where the business benefited greatly from having a good reputation was recruitment and retention. We actively sought out great workers who wanted to do interesting work, needed bespoke working arrangements, yet wanted to be paid fairly.

The guy who loved hiking. He would work six months of the year for us, then head off trekking to far-flung places like the Himalayas, New Zealand or Patagonia for the remainder of the year.

The young mother with a new baby (and subsequently several more), who sought a rapid return to the workforce, but needed a job forgiving of the endless series of nursery sniffles and tummy bugs that babies and toddlers seem to attract.

The functional alcoholic with amazing technical skills, but a self-destructive tendency to enter poker tournaments, win big before eventually losing, then disappearing for days at a time on a bender to drown his sorrows.

A good reputation will attract opportunities like a magnet. A bad reputation will see people avoiding you like the plague.

Reputational harm

Despite the “right to be forgotten”, for the most part memories are long and the internet is forever.

Don’t believe me?

What is the first thing you think about when you hear the name Monica Lewinsky? I’m betting it isn’t the great work she does raising awareness about cyberbullying?

How about Lance Armstrong? It probably isn’t that he raised $300 million to support cancer victims.

Chappaquiddick? How many people thought of a sleepy island off Martha’s Vineyard, rather than the scandal more than 50 years ago involving a Kennedy?

Audience participation

Now do an ego search on Google using your own name.

Are you satisfied with what is returned?

Stand behind all the things you have said or are associated with?

The Google cache and Wayback Machine ensure every public utterance we have ever written down is recorded for posterity. If there is anything you wouldn’t be content seeing printed in poster-sized writing on the side of the number 23 bus, don’t write it down!

Australia has a national pastime called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. The easily led masses (the tabloid newspaper and gossip magazine readers, the talkback radio listeners, the social media followers) love nothing more than when a successful person who has risen above their peers comes crashing back down to Earth with an ego-bruising reputational harm inducing thud.

Don’t be a dickhead

How many people would be sympathetic when the subject of an article titled something like “I’m an [obnoxious bellend] millionaire. Here’s how I got so rich” or “How I retired at [some implausible age] with three young kids while earning minimum wage” slips up and gets caught in a lie, or a scandal, or goes bankrupt?

How many will cheer?


Who will cheer when they slip up, are caught in a lie, or go bankrupt? Image credit: Citizen Brick.

Reputation is a double-edged sword. It is capable of providing marvellous opportunities to those who treat people fairly, and do what they say they will do.

Reputational harm will certainly hold back those who troll, gloat, boast or generally treat people shabbily.

Remember that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and nobody likes a dickhead.

Next Steps

  • Perform an ego search on your name, then make your peace with what comes back.
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Disclaimer: I may receive a (very) small commission from any purchase you make via links on this website.
Debt Recycling

Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) espouses a school of thought that owner occupied property should not be considered an asset because it fails to generate an income for the owner.

Personally I’m not convinced by this argument.

I am a big believer in creating a collection of diversified cash flow positive investments, financial freedom being achieved when those investments reliably cover the owner’s living costs. So from a simple cash flow perspective Kiyosaki makes sense.

However those living costs are likely to be significant lower if, instead of having to pay market rents every month, the owner lives in a property they own outright.

Ultimately this becomes a quantifiable opportunity cost argument, with the correct buy versus rent outcome for each individual being determined by the numbers.

What if you are already an owner occupier?

There are a few options available to an existing owner occupier who wishes to redeploy accumulated equity in their home towards a higher performing cash flow positive investment.

The most obvious option is selling. However given the huge transaction costs involved this is often a suboptimal choice.

Releasing trapped equity

Owner occupiers can turn “bad” debt into good debt by recycling their mortgage. Trapped equity can be more productively redeployed to purchase cash flow positive investments.

In a recent post I discussed the concept of “rentvesting”: renting where you live, while owning cash flow positive investment properties that generate a passive income stream and benefit from capital growth.

There are two main approaches an existing owner occupier could adopt to pursue a similar strategy.

Cashflow play: Rent out, then rent cheaper

As a pure cashflow play, an owner occupier could investigate letting out the property they own then renting somewhere cheaper for themselves.

This decision requires some careful research, as a “dream house” seldom transitions well into a cash flow positive investment property.

The property choices of owner occupiers are often constrained by what they can initially afford. Compromises are made, trading off property prices against desirable locations, commuting times, school catchments, and so on.

Tenants enjoy the luxury of choice. The more compromised the location, the lower the tenant demand will be. This results in lower achievable rents in less desirable areas, putting a significant dent in the potential investment yield.

Renting out your home may be a viable strategy if the numbers make sense. Check with your lender first, you may need their “consent to let” the property if it is mortgaged.

This option only makes sense where:

(Tenant's Rent - Owner's Rent) > Property Financing Costs

Equity release: debt recycling

Releasing trapped equity involves borrowing against a property you already own. This may involved refinancing or redrawing on your existing mortgage.

The extracted equity is deployed towards acquiring cash flow positive investments.

The mortgage remains secured over your home, and you must continue to make mortgage payments as before.

The income streams earned from your newly acquired investments contribute towards those mortgage payments.

This option makes sense where:

Investment cash flow > Additional Property Financing Costs

The table below illustrates a real world example of debt recycling in action.

Debt Recycling

Debt Recycling in action.

By investing a total of $55,097.13 I was able to purchase 3 properties over a 5 year period, with a combined value of just over $1,000,000.

Two years later I sold one of the properties, using the proceeds to reduce the leverage of the remaining portfolio.

I was able to recover my $55,000 of cash contributions, and still be left with equity worth over $473,000.

At that point I could have sold a second property and used to proceeds to fully pay off the mortgage on the remaining property.

This could have provided me with rent/mortgage free accommodation for the rest of my life, or alternatively contributed $26,000 in annual free cash flow towards covering my own lifestyle costs. As they say in Finland, that is better than a hat full of rabbits!

Other considerations

In some jurisdictions the borrowing costs associated with investment purchases may be tax deductible.

The general principle is guided by what the purchase was for, rather than what it was secured against. Do your own homework, and if in doubt consult a qualified accountant.

Note debt recycling is not without risk, invest unwisely and you may jeopardise your home.

Next Steps

  • Run the numbers to work out if renting out your home is financially beneficial.
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Simple choice: Adapt or die

It is often said that I lack subtlety and tact. I accept that. I’ve never been entirely sure whether this observation was intended as a compliment, criticism, or simple statement of fact.

Outside of boardroom presentations, I have seldom had to suppress the urge to punch people in the face quite so often as a recent visit to the town where I grew up.

The “good life

This is a government town, where everyone makes a living out of the making, influencing or executing of governmental policy… or providing supporting services to those who do.

Disposable incomes are well above average.

The residents are generally well educated.

Career progression to middle management levels is based on time served as much as ability.

Much of the population live in reasonably large single occupancy housing and drive around in reasonably new cars.

Life is generally affluent and comfortable, with keeping up with the Joneses a favourite past time.

I spent much of a week catching up with old friends. It was great to hear about their victories, their future plans, and their complaints that the sporting teams of my youth still lose more games than they win (some things don’t change!).

Everyone is afraid

There was a recurring theme that I hadn’t observed on previous visits: fear.

Fear of the future. How will their state pensions and healthcare be funded? How will their private pensions be watered down or taxed to make up the shortfall?

Fear of automation. Robots and artificial intelligence are apparently going to take away all the jobs.

Fear of immigration. “Foreigners” willing to work for less money, driving down living standards.

Fear of outsourcing and offshoring. “Big business” was delivering lower quality (at lower cost) commodity services using resources who are willing to work longer hours for less money without the security blanket of permanent jobs, benefits, or pensions.

Generally just fear of the unknown.

Adapt or die

I was sympathetic to a point, I struggle with change as much as the next guy.

However change is one of the few certainties in life. You either evolve and survive, or you perish. My (mostly) successful old friends appeared to have been brainwashed by all the talkback radio shock jocks and fear-mongering politicians, forgetting this most fundamental law of nature: adapt or die!

Evolution or extinction

Evolution or extinction. Image credit: Bright Bricks

As is my wont I attempted to “trust, but verify” what I was told.

Had I lucked into a safe stable profession early on, and obliviously coasted my way through all this apparent uncertainty that was plaguing my friends? Or had I, consciously or otherwise, tap danced and evolved my way through an ever-changing professional landscape?

Change is hard

I briefly replayed a few of the roles I performed early in my varied working life.

Paper route

Lugging around vast bags full of newspapers and junk mail earned me the princely sum of $3.24 a week and Popeye-like forearms.

The change: websites, targetted internet advertising, and spam emails have largely rendered this profession structurally redundant.

Milk run

Jumping on and off the back of a moving truck while carrying 12 glass bottles of milk was certainly exciting, but not a job anyone survived with knees and ankles intact for long.

The change: internet grocery deliveries by major supermarket chains have eliminated the profession.

Skilled lab technician

My career backup plan was over less than 10 years after it began.

The change: digital cameras killed off the local one-hour photo development industry. Smartphones killed off digital cameras.


An ancient that has continued largely unchanged since time began.

The change: health-conscious teetotal millennials, combined with big screen televisions and internet beer deliveries to the homes of their parents, is slowly but surely killing off the traditional pub. That said there will always be people who enjoy getting drunk, so there will always be work for this who want it.


A varied profession of many facets, many of which were neither client facing nor requiring imagination.

The change: practitioners of any profession that can be reduced to a script or repeatable set of decision statements are doomed. Software, automation and offshoring has greatly reduced (but not eliminated) the demand for number crunchers and Excel jockeys. There are always jobs for the “what do you want the answer to be?” style Management Accountants however!

Software developer

The profession overall thrives, though the commodity nature of the work combined with the rapid pace of innovation has always required re-skilling every 2-3 years to remain relevant and employable.

The change: everybody rents or buys rather than develops bespoke software these days. Today project delivery risk is regularly shifted onto large consultancies, who employ vast armies of offshore resources to turn handles, simultaneously overcharging and underwhelming the client for solutions that seldom solve their problem. If you are a code monkey without any customer-facing elements to your role, and live in a high cost of living locale, then I wish you the very best of luck… you are going to need it.

I could go on, but by this point I had satisfied myself that there had been plenty of change.

Evolution or extinction

Yet here is the thing. Has anyone observed a vast spike in homelessness caused by all the paper boys, milkmen, and photo lab workers becoming structurally redundant? Me either. Most of them adapted and evolved, moving on to other professions that demanded willing and able workers.

Complaining that my decades-old visual basic programming skills or photo development knowledge are no longer relevant or in demand would be ridiculous.

Demanding that “they” (the government, society, whomever) should do something to resist or prevent change, protecting my antiquated skills and abilities to ensure I can continue to earn a decent living is nonsensical.

Yet that was the line of reasoning being advanced by many of my old friends, fanned by the media and politicians. There were seemingly endless calls to:

  • protect farmers and dying country towns
  • restore dying industries like car manufacturing or steel production.
  • insisting that teaching or nursing roles are filled by local citizens, rather than visa holding “foreigners” who are willing to take up these important demanding, yet low paid, roles.

The list goes on.


Workers must invest in themselves to ensure they maintain marketable skills relevant to their chosen living locations. Dinosaurs and Dodos became extinct for a reason. Workers who fail to maintain their relevance should suffer the same fate.

It is a simple choice: Adapt or die.

Next Steps

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Financial Planning - When self-interest and bad advice collide

Several years ago I toyed with the idea of turning my interest in financial planning into a career as a financial planner.

There were two main drivers behind my interest in financial planning.

Firstly I wanted to peek behind the curtain, learn what it is the professionals are taught.

  • What do they know?
  • Does it actually work?
  • And if so, where are all the rich financial planners? If they practised what they preached, and it worked, then there should be thousands of them!

Secondly I observed folks all around me who earned plenty money, yet never seemed to have enough. Invariably this was because of their own poor choices, made out of a variable combination of apathy, greed, ignorance, and stupidity.

Book learning for fun and profit

I spent a couple of years completing the formal training required, receiving a shiny Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning and Investment for my trouble.

By the end of my studies I had learned that the financial planning industry had no secret sauce for financial success. Most planners are comfortable, but few are more financially secure or successful than the average white collar professional.

When the time came to change career directions and make the leap into the world of financial planning, I blinked.

I couldn’t reconcile the fundamental conflict of interest that existed.

Misaligned commercial interests

The basics of successful personal finance are both simple and well documented. Earn more, spend less, invest the difference in low-cost diversified investments, and then leave them alone. Rinse and repeat, until the magic of compounding makes you wealthy.

Earn more, spend less, invest the difference in low-cost diversified investments, and then leave them alone. Rinse and repeat, until the magic of compounding makes you wealthy.

The problem with that approach is that a financial planner can’t make a decent living from it.   

The path to financial success for a planner is paved with activity and commissionable churn… and/or fees, lots and lots of fees.

  • Trading commissions.
  • Trailing commissions.
  • Platform fees.
  • Product placement fees.
  • Account keeping fees.
  • Administration fees.
  • Referral fees to other financial services professions who are actually qualified to provide more fee-based accounting, insurance, legal, mortgage, tax and wealth management advice.

You get the idea.

This creates an inherent conflict: what is good for the advisor is unlikely to produce an optimal outcome for the customer.

Fees... lots and lots of fees.

Fees… lots and lots of fees.

I made my peace with my decision, applied the relevant lessons learned to my own financial planning approach, and moved on.

Price gouging pensioners for a living

Recently while helping my father put his affairs in order I had cause to validate my decision.

I was stunned to discover the total fees and commissions he had been charged over the preceding year exceeded the median annual household disposable income!

the total fees and commissions he had been charged over the preceding year exceeded the median annual household disposable income!

Digging into the figures further, there was no single item that was outrageous. Instead on top of the eye-watering platform and account keeping fees, every one of the (many) planner initiated buy, sell or rebalance activities on the account came with a hefty fee attached.

I challenged my father on the vast size of the fees. He protested that his fees were lower than those being paid by his peers. Over the next few days I met several of his friends, and was alarmed to discover my father was correct.

These old guys happily competed amongst one another to see who could get the best deal, but all of them had blindly accepted the premise that high fees were the cost of doing business.

When self-interest and bad advice collide

Another thing that alarmed me was the prevalence of “vertical integration” within the financial planning firms. Client funds were directed towards investment vehicles owned and operated by the financial planning firms, rather than lower cost options like Vanguard or Fidelity.

Instead of listed low cost index trackers, these pensioners were being talked into investing material portions of their wealth into exotic unlisted funds that operated in asset classes such as wind farms, film financing, or directly held international residential real estate.

Financial Planners love pensions

The other gripe I had about financial planners was their fondness for pensions.

I can see the allure, it is an easy sell.


The lure of “free money” in the form of employer matches for pension contribution.

However the thing that financial planners love most about pensions are the age restrictions! These make it difficult, expensive, or impossible (depending on the rules applicable in your locale) to access for years… or decades depending on how old the customer is.

This creates a dangerous “out of sight, out of mind” mentality for many customers, making them less inclined to challenge the cancerous high management and transactions fees that are eroding their nest eggs.

Pensions are optional

My own view on pensions is likely to be a tad controversial.

As a child, I rejected the notion that everyone had to work until they dropped, or were too old to enjoy many of the fun things in life.

As an adult, I worked to replace my earned income with a collection of diversified passive income streams.

Once those passive income streams reliably exceeded my living costs I was financially free to control how I chose to invest my time.

You may have noticed pensions do not feature prominently in my simple financial plan.

I wanted to get off the hamster wheel at an age much younger than the typical pensioner. Having a material portion of my assets locked away inside age restricted pension wrappers wasn’t going to help me achieve that goal.

Here is the thing. If you have done it right, the perpetually sustainable passive income generating machine you assembled to reliably support you prior to reaching pension ages will continue to reliably do so after pension age.

This being the case, having ready access to deploy my funds advantageously becomes very important.

Pension wrappers offer a promise of tax deferment… which may (or may not) be honoured at the whim of future governments. However this promise often comes at the price of restrictions about which asset classes pension funds can be invested in, and whether those assets can be geared or borrowed against, and so on. Again these restrictions vary greatly by locality, so do your own homework.


Good financial planning advice is worth listening to, but only when the commercial interests of the planner and client are aligned.

As always: “trust, but verify“.

Critically assess and validate whether the advice you receive is going to help you achieve your goals, at a reasonable price. This is particularly true for folks interested in retiring earlier than the traditional retirement age, as this will take them off the standard financial planning script and require a different set of approaches.

Pensions are a useful financial planning tool with many desirable features. However they are not the only tool, nor are they always the right tool for the job.

Next Steps

  • Are the fees and commissions you are being charged fair and reasonable?
  • If not, do something about it!
  • If you liked this post then please share it with your friends.
Disclaimer: I may receive a (very) small commission from any purchase you make via links on this website.