For most people, money is a taboo subject.
While many of us are happy to discuss other details of our lives with a trusted circle of friends, our personal finances are a topic that often remains firmly off limits.
It is for this reason that a trusted financial planner is so important. When people stumble on an honest and reliable adviser, they hang on to them. And they hang on tight.
Sue-Sharyn Ward is a productivity solutions specialist from Sydney, Australia, working for her own consultancy in Dubai. After years of unsatisfying experiences with various financial advisers, Ms Ward met Dannie McDonald, a financial services manager at Lifecare International, a health and travel insurance firm.
"I met Dannie about six years ago at an International Business Women's Group luncheon," she says. "Dannie suggested setting up a BUPA health insurance policy for the entire group. Over the next 18 months, I worked with her closely and began to trust and respect her opinion."
Later, when Ms Ward started having problems with her finances, she turned to Ms McDonald for help.
"I was pleased with her generosity in giving advice without asking for anything in return," she says.
"Soon after that, I entrusted her with everything - my life's savings. Dannie's parents are about the same age as me. So I said to her, 'Just give me the same advice that you would give them'."
Ms Ward says transparency and honesty helped to create a successful relationship between them. It was the feeling that she wasn't just being viewed as a commission cheque that enabled the trust to grow. Ms Ward had confidence in the fact that her financial adviser wouldn't sell her a product - such as an investment or insurance plan - that wasn't appropriate for her needs.
Unfortunately, not everyone builds this kind of relationship with a financial adviser. Bad experiences, such as those commission-hungry cold-calls you might receive at work or at home, turn many expatriates off the idea of working with a professional to manage and build their wealth.
According to Ms McDonald, strict regulations in other countries means the financial-planning industry has evolved from being commission-based to fee-based - a shift that would be beneficial here in the UAE.
"Aggressive commission structures on financial products can lead to kickbacks and consultants favouring certain products irrespective of their clients' needs," she says.
"In Australia and the UK, upfront commissions have decreased and, instead, clients pay a fee for an appointment. This has helped to prevent product bias. Here in the UAE, the industry is still very much a commission-driven business."
Kevin Broad, a freelance cameraman from the UK, has been in the UAE for nearly 10 years.
Three years ago, he received a phone call out of the blue from a financial planner and agreed to a free consultation - the appointment was free on the understanding that Mr Broad would hand over 10 names and phone numbers for the consultant to cold-call.
"We signed up for a 25-year pension plan," Mr Broad, 31, says.
"But we weren't given the full details. After a few years of paying in quite a large amount every month, we enquired about withdrawing what we had saved, only to be told that it would take another seven years of payments before our plan would break even, let alone make any money."
Mr Broad says although he and his wife had discussed the risks involved in investing money, it was the feeling of being duped that bothered them the most.
"There are policies for five and 10 years, which - at our age - would have been more appropriate. A lump sum of cash may come in handy around then, for schooling or for buying a house. At the time, he acted like our best friend; an experienced professional and like he had our best interests at heart. Looking back, he was just a good salesman thinking about his commission."
Another person burnt by unscrupulous financial advisers is Dominic Nair, a human-resources adviser for a government organisation in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Nair signed up for life insurance and a 14-year retirement plan when he was just 21, with the intention of retiring at 35.
However, six years into the plan, he realised that the company was not investing his money wisely.
"I took the policies with a large, well-known multinational brand on the recommendation of a family friend," he says. "I was busy being young and living life. When I finally looked at my portfolio, the value was approximately 30 per cent less than I had already put in - they had promised me that it would be making money, not losing it."
Mr Nair did some research and gave himself a crash course in investments. Within 12 months, he says he made nearly 60 per cent more than the financial advisers had in six years.
But in the long run, Mr Nair says he didn't have time to manage his own portfolio.
Luckily, at this time, he met Rickson D'Souza, the director of wealth management at Pinnacle, a UAE-based insurance broker and wealth management consultancy.
"Rickson has been my lifesaver," says Mr Nair. "He's not just looking for a quick buck. He's professional with his approach - he knows the risks I will take, my long-term and short-term commitments. I'd take his advice with my eyes closed and, in a way, I do because he has standing advice to do anything with my money as he sees fit. I don't question his decisions because I know he does for me as he does for his own portfolio."
As with Ms Ward and Ms McDonald, a strong relationship with a financial adviser is often personal in nature, partly because the issue of money is so essential to our well-being. In other words, it often outgrows the confines of a strictly finance-based association.
"I have extremely close friends and zillions of family members, but Rickson is the executor of my will for my children - that is how much I trust him," Mr Nair says, adding that the difference between Mr D'Souza and other financial planners is the personalised service.
"When you are logged into a big system, you are just a number. And you are treated as one. You receive poor service because it is mass produced. With Rickson, that just doesn't happen."
Mr D'Souza has forged a strong reputation in his field, which has earned him membership to the exclusive Million Dollar Roundtable - a US-based association that comprises the top 6 per cent of financial advisers in the world.
Not only that, but Mr D'Souza has been made a Court of the Table, meaning he is in the top 1 per cent of financial advisers in the world.
Formed in 1927, the Million Dollar Roundtable is based in the US state of Illinois. The independent group has 32,000 members from 80 countries. Members, who have to apply to renew their membership every year, are required to observe a strict code of ethics and demonstrate outstanding client service.
Mr D'Souza believes his success comes down to ethics.
"When I am hiring people for my firm, the most important thing for me is that they are joining the industry with a long-term career avenue in mind, and not on a short money-making mission," he says. "If it's just about fast money, they will often give incorrect advice and care more about their own money than their client's. These consultants often leave a wave of unhappy clients in their wake. As a broker, I don't gain anything from hiring someone who gives bad advice. It's taken 10 years to build and earn this reputation. No amount of money is worth losing that."
And herein lies the key to finding a top-rate financial adviser. Did they seek you out, in the manner of a dodgy double-glazing salesman, or have you heard your friends raving about them?
In this area, Mr D'Souza and Ms McDonald are the same.
"Don't respond to cold-calls," Ms McDonald says. "Planners who need to cold-call aren't very good, and 100 per cent of my business has come to me through referrals."
Similarly, since Pinnacle launched in August 2005, the company has not used marketing tactics to develop business. Mr D'Souza says his clients come to him.
"All of our business comes from satisfied customers who recommend us," says Mr D'Souza.
"We've retained more than 94 per cent of our clients since day one. I have heard the term 'trusted financial adviser' used about us - and I like it. You only get called that when your reputation is strong and you are doing a fantastic job for your clients. That's always been our aim."
Good traits for advisers
Independence If you are planning to invest in a number of different types of products, a broker who isn’t linked with a financial product brand will be able to scout around for the best deal to suit your needs, rather than being tied to offering one brand of package or policy.
Referrals The best way to gauge an adviser’s capabilities is on referrals from a friend you trust – people generally won’t risk giving a bad referral for something as important as a wealth manager, says Rickson D’Souza of Pinnacle Insurance Brokers.
Patience Look for someone who takes the time to sit with you and do a proper needs analysis, someone who doesn’t try to sell you a product at your first meeting, says Dannie McDonald, a financial services manager at Lifecare International.
Portfolio Ask to see a financial adviser’s portfolio, says Mr D’Souza. “I don’t sell any products that I don’t personally own. When I go to client meetings, I take my portfolio with all my insurance, savings and investments.”
Style Are they professional and official? Check out their office, stationary and business cards.
Qualifications Are they qualified financial planners? And do they have industry experience? “At the very least, they should have an international adviser qualification – either from a chartered insurance institute or a financial planning association,” Ms McDonald says.
Outline At the first meeting, your consultant should do a needs analysis test; at the second, they should propose a plan; at the third, you should be discussing the products you are interested in.
Meetings Mr D’Souza promises his clients that he will meet with them personally at least four times a year, however, they can meet him more regularly if they wish.
Tips for the first meeting
First meeting Use the first meeting to assess an adviser: the conversation should be about you and your goals and if he asks you to sign a contract, chances are it is not one that has been chosen because it specifically suits you.
What to ask How do you get paid? How much will you make off this policy? If they can’t or won’t answer, what else are they hiding?
Learn first rule Always remember: when it comes to financial products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Look at details Ask to see the key features document: this outlines the details of the financial product. In Australia and the UK, you have to give this document to the client. This is not a requirement here, but if your consultant doesn’t give it to you, that could be another a warning sign that all is not right.
Avoid cold-callers Always ask who referred you, which will enable you to cross-reference the referral and find out if the consultant is good. If they don’t want to tell you who referred you, this could be a warning sign because it is relatively easy to get people’s information in the UAE.