If you’re an investor in the UAE or the wider Gulf Cooperation Council, you may already be aware of a new tool designed to help you choose the best advisory firms in the UAE. A new financial aggregator website, whichfinancialadvisor.com, was launched earlier this year in an effort to combat scammers and streamline the advice system so that it’s clearer and easier to use.Set up by Insight Discovery, the UAE based research, communications and consultancy agency, and regulated by the Insurance Authority and Securities and Commodities Authority, the new site is the first of its kind in the Middle East. It will be followed by a second website, designed to showcase those wealth managers who are regulated by the DFSA, ADGM and the UAE Central Bank. Typically, these authorities deal with investors who are planning to invest more than $500,000.
The new site came about as a result of the ‘Middle East Investment Panorama (MEIP)’ survey, which was conducted by Insight Discovery and which found that expats across the region were demanding more from regional financial advice services. Some 39% of respondents said that they would like greater transparency, while 37% replied that they would like to see a firmer crack-down on scams. A smaller percentage asked for industry-recognised qualifications for financial advice firms.
Of the firms involved, financial advisers themselves have reported a decline in the number of advisers, due mainly to perceived competition within the industry and a reluctance on the part of clients to invest. However, this may be a positive thing. At the launch of the report based on the survey, Nigel Sillitoe, CEO of Insight Discovery and the new website’s founder, said:
"Conditions have been difficult for the advisers. The expat clients have become more informed and demanding. The geopolitical environment in this part of the world has been difficult. The economics of the business have deteriorated – as higher costs for compliance, regulation and much else besides have coincided with caps on commissions."
Paul Evans, head of Middle East at Old Mutual International, also notes that: “It is clear that financial advisers still play a vital role for expats, but more needs to be done in terms of transparency and regulation in order to increase the reputation of the industry further. It is also concerning that many individuals feel they are only able to save a small proportion of their salary. The retirement landscape is shifting in the region to bring savings policy more into line with worldwide trends, which is likely to place more responsibility on individual saving. High quality, trusted advice will be critical to help people plan accordingly.”
Sillitoe says that, overall, the situation is positive; financial advisors have risen to the challenge and become more sensitive to the needs not only of potential investors but also of regulators. He commented that: “Across the region, quality trumps quantity in financial advice.”
Whichfinancialadviser offers some guidelines for avoiding scams, noting that an overly complicated scheme which you don’t fully understand is best avoided. This is often an issue with investment products, it notes, as these can be opaque. It also suggests that you look into the background of the advisor and their company; are they registered or licensed within the UAE, for example, or elsewhere? The WFA has also reserved the right not to feature investors on its new platform who practice cold calling, or those who have had their licenses withdrawn. It’s working with global law firm Pinsent Masons to give background information on local regulators and the different type of licenses.
The website has a strict code of conduct, outlined in the ‘regulators’ section. It also lists advisers who are based in the UAE and regulated by authorities within the country, and who belong to professional organisations such as the Chartered Insurance Institute, Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment and/or the London Institute for Banking & Finance. You can use the platform to check whether your financial advisor is a member of any of these bodies, via a simple click on the listed logos.
You can also download a form to put you in touch with one of the advisors on the site; the WFA features advisors and firms according to two basic criteria: those who have gained minimum UK-agreed qualifications and those who have not. It will also tell you how long your advisor has been in business, as well as the type of products (inheritance tax planning, retirement planning, portfolio management or savings, for example) in which they specialise. There’s also a link to financial products such as car insurance and credit cards which don’t require advice but which you may want to compare.
In addition to listings of financial advisors and regulators, the website also features regular blog pieces, such as one on the end of service gratuities in the UAE, and links to other media articles of interest to UAE investors.
Tom Bicknell, Head of Financial Services at Pinsent Masons Middle East says:
"We are delighted to have been involved with this project. For some time, UAE residents have required a website which summarises the local regulations and lists all regulated advisory firms. Whilst certain rules remain outstanding it's encouraging that the regulators are championing protection for consumers and introducing greater product and distribution controls.”
Forbes notes that Insight Discovery itself has been voted ‘Best Consultancy Firm in the Middle East’ by Global Investor, part of Euromoney, for five years running, saying: “As the leading provider of consumer intelligence in the MENA region we could see an obvious gap in helping UAE residents understand the quality of firms that they were engaging with or indeed a place for customers to go to, to help them compare the type of advisers available to them.”
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