Here at Spending Hacker we are all about helping you save money by getting the absolute best deals on everything.

Getting the best value for your money is very important (just remember that best value does not always equal to going with the absolute cheapest option!) but is only part of the overall picture.

The other (very important) part is deciding how to invest your money and structure your financial affairs.

Just like with finding the best deals, you can either go the D.I.Y route, do all the research yourself and make your decision based on that, or get professional help.

Some people turn to their accountant for that but you need to understand that this is not the right approach.

An accountant is an expert on tax, not on investing.

You should definitely talk to them when it comes to your taxes but getting investment advice from your accountant is kinda like getting advice about how to look after your teeth from your GP: they may know a fair bit about that but they are not experts on that.

If you want expert professional advice on investing your money, you need to talk to a financial planner.

Saying that, the financial planning profession doesn’t have the best reputation in Australia at the moment and some people see them as nothing more than glorified salespeople of managed funds and insurance.

Others consider them as being basically on the same level as ‘snake oil’ salespeople or even outright scammers and con artists.

With big scandals in recent years involving financial planners like the collapse of storm financial and the financial planning practices at the Commonwealth Bank, which cost some people their entire life savings, this is perfectly understandable.

ASIC, who are the regulators of financial planning, as well as the federal government as a whole, are trying to address these issues and fix the system because they understand the important role the profession of financial planning has in society.

They have introduced several new laws and regulations to address that. Most of those focus on moving the financial planning profession away from relying on sales commissions (as is the case for mortgage brokers for example) to a fee-for-service model (like how you’d pay your lawyer, accountant or medical specialist).

This video from the ABC’s (outstanding!!) consumer affairs show The Checkout discusses that in more detail. They also manage to make it easy to understand and even entertaining (this is one of their greatest strengths and why this show is so awesome! )

Check it out (no pun intended 😉 ):

Good one ey? 🙂

It’s amazing how The Checkout crew can eloquently explain a complex and quite ‘dry’ topic in just a few minutes and do it so well.

We are not experts on investing and that’s why you don’t see this topic featured on the website. Even if we were, we don’t have the proper licenses and ‘paperwork’ to discuss this highly regulated and sensitive topic publicly.

However, one of our members is!

His name is Grant Millar  and he is a qualified financial planner based on the Gold Coast. This means he does have all the ‘paperwork’ to talk about topics like investing, super and insurance.

However, that’s not what he is going to discuss below.

Instead, he is going to try and help you do two things:

  1. Decide on whether or not you need a financial planner in the first place; and
  2. Choose the right one for you.

Take it away Grant!

Grant Millar

It may sound like a silly question to some, but it’s a very important one to ask if you’re looking for some professional guidance on achieving your financial goals.

If you’re subscribed to Spending Hacker, chances are you’re someone who wants to make better financial decisions.

This article aims to shed some light on the following areas:

  • What is a financial planner (or ‘financial adviser’)?

  • What does a financial planner do?

  • When do you need a financial planner?

  • What should you look out for when choosing a financial planner?

What is a financial planner?

Some people think we’re like an accountant, some people think that all we do is help rich people manage their investments, and some people think we’re just glorified insurance salesmen.

Heck, I just met with a new accountant recently who had no idea what a financial planner does, so don’t feel like you’re alone!

Firstly, we cannot do your taxes (not an accountant), though we can provide advice on how certain actions may have tax implications, and what those implications may be.

We cannot recommend a home loan product (unless we are also a registered & licensed mortgage broker), though we can discuss features of home loan products, and discuss debt and recommend strategies to reduce or restructure debt to put you in a better position.

Now, to get a better understanding of what we are, I want you to draw a sliding scale from 0 to 100. Where on the scale do you think you’d sit when it comes to achieving your financial potential?

Don’t rush this. Think about it carefully.

How well are you doing financially?

How well could you be doing financially?

Are you achieving your financial goals?

Do you have financial goals?

Are you uncertain or unsure you’re doing things the best way?

Would you like to make sure you’re making the most of what you have?

Most (honest) people score themselves below 50. It’s a financial planner’s job to answer the questions above, and help you move up the scale toward 100, and identify areas you could do better (and help you do better).

What does a financial planner actually do?

In understanding when you need to see a financial planner, and what to look out for, it’s important that you understand what a financial planner does.

It’s also important to know that a ‘financial planner’ is the same as a ‘financial adviser’. The terms are used interchangeably, but most people refer to someone who gives financial advice as a ‘financial planner’.

A financial planner (or adviser) is someone who gives financial advice with an objective of making positive changes to help people (and businesses) achieve their financial objectives, as well as effectively manage and structure their financial affairs to minimise the risk of loss (wealth protection / insurance / estate planning), and maximise opportunities for wealth generation (budgeting / cash flow management / tax planning / investing).

The definition of ‘wealth’ is likely to vary, depending on your circumstances.

To some, wealth is having money in the bank at the end of the week, to others it may be growing your savings or owning your own home, and to some it may be accumulating properties or growing a share portfolio.

Don’t feel bad if you’re just starting out or only just getting your finances in order.

When do you need a financial planner?

If you’re time poor, have complex needs, don’t know what you could be doing better, or really want someone to be there to hold your hand throughout your financial life – or just guide you to make the best decision for a particular financial decision – then seeing a financial planner can be a great idea.

Earlier, we discussed where you are on the scale of achieving your financial potential, but that really is only one part of it. Below are some circumstances I find to be quite common with clients who come to see me for financial advice – chances are, you may be able to relate to one of these:

  1. You are trying to budget, get out of debt, understand your finances, or save more money to achieve a goal (such as going on a holiday / going on regular holidays, buying a house, or have enough money to retire on comfortably).
    • Effectively managing your finances should be the foundation. You should look for someone who will not only help you make your money go further, but educate you on what you need to do yourself so you don’t need to pay them a fee forever just to manage your money.
    • A good financial planner should be able to help you identify which debts to target first, how to structure your debts, how to minimise your unnecessary expenses so you have more disposable income, and how to optimise your finances to work toward a goal.
    • If you’re suffering from major debt concerns, you may be better suited to speak with a financial counsellor who can help you work with your debtors, and help you avoid paying for ‘debt help’ programs which charge a fee.
  2. You are approaching retirement and want to know what to do to prepare, or you’re in retirement and want to make the most of your finances.
    • There are a number of options, including a Transition to Retirement Income Stream for individuals aged 56+, which can help you minimise your tax liability and grow your super.
    • Whether you’re young or old, you may be looking at what your options are for making extra ‘contributions’ (deposits) into your super.
  3. You want to make sure the things you own and owe are properly managed if you’re no longer able to manage your affairs yourself.
    • This may be that you’re unavailable or incapable of managing your financial affairs (physically or mentally incapacitated), where you need a power of attorney, or a will to make sure things get managed properly when you die.
    • A financial planner can work with other professionals, such as an Estate Planning lawyer, to make sure things are structured appropriately – this is especially critical with blended families, divorcees, when you have people you want to exclude from your estate, etc.
  4. You need to make sure you and the family aren’t left destitute if the unexpected happens.
    • This could be a loss of income due to injury, illness, permanent disablement, or death.
    • Most people do not have adequate preventative measures in place (insurance, savings, etc.), which can be destructive when the unexpected occurs.
    • Industry super funds only offer minimal cover for their members and typically have very tight conditions to make payments. Comparing the insurance of an industry fund vs the insurance a financial planner has access to can be like comparing CTP insurance for your car vs comprehensive car insurance – they’re both ‘insurance’, but they cover you to different lengths.
  5. You would like to look at your options for investing, or get assistance managing your investments.
    • This could be property, shares, cash, an inheritance, etc.
    • You may want to know how to protect your investments from creditors through the use of a family trust.

What should you look out for when choosing a financial planner?

Now, here’s the thing: Not all financial planners are the same!

You could speak with a financial planner from your super fund, you could speak with a financial planner from your bank, you could use Google to find your closest financial planner and hope for the best (not recommended).

Heck, at the time of writing, there are over 25,000 financial advisers registered with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), which is the primary government body which regulates financial services in Australia.

That’s more than 1 for every 1,000 people in Australia!

This is despite the fact that only about 2.4 million of our approx. 24 million residents see a financial planner (so around 10%).

Every month, the list is updated, and you can download the latest statistics here. How exciting! 😉

That’s a LOT of people available to tell you what to do with your money!

Are they all the same? No.

Can they all provide you with advice on the same things? No.

I know what you’re thinking; “That’s enough, Grant. Get to the point.”

Ok. Where was I? 🙂

Right. Not all financial planners are the same. We’re going to get into some pretty deep (but important) stuff here, so get ready!

I recently had a family member ask me to help a good friend because this friend’s grandfather was about to be put into aged care, and they needed to work out a few things.

I have never had anything to do with advising someone about aged care (by choice), and so I referred this friend to someone who specialises in aged care advice. It’s an area that only specialists should assist with.

I also had a friend tell me of an experience where the mortgage broker she saw to buy her house referred her to ‘the planner upstairs’ to help them with their finances (it’s likely he was going to get a kickback from the planner).

Without really looking into their circumstances, he started recommending they switch super funds, take out insurance, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s every need to look into your finances when you make a big decision like that – you’re putting yourself into a ton of debt, and you need to know what you’re getting into and how to protect yourself.

BUT, this guy didn’t explain why he was making those recommendations, or get to know them at all. He was simply offering a service which he could charge a fee for, instead of really looking out for their best interest.

As you could guess, they walked out and their experience with seeing a financial planner was tarnished.

Put simply, it really depends on what kind of financial advice you’re looking for.

Your financial planner doesn’t have to be your new best friend, but you need someone you can TRUST who is also licensed to provide financial advice, as well as being adequately educated and experienced.

Your first point of reference to check these areas should be the financial planner’s Financial Services Guide (FSG).

You should ask them to go through it with you if there’s anything you don’t understand. They must provide you with a copy of this before providing you with any personal financial advice.

ASIC has a great set of questions you could ask to make sure you’re well educated before you start working with them.

If you don’t feel confident or comfortable with them, then move on and try again with someone else! Don’t give up – the value of good financial advice should not be underestimated.

Legislation was passed a few years ago which mandates a higher standard in the advice being provided by financial planners.

This reform was called the ‘Future of Financial Advice’ (FOFA) reform.

The result of this is that a financial planner is no longer permitted to receive commissions or kickbacks for recommending a certain product (with the exception of commissions from insurance companies, which has also recently had laws passed to make this even across the industry).

Financial Planners are also obligated to ensure that any advice is in the best interest of the client, and this must be documented by the planner, otherwise they’re breaching their ‘best interest duty’ to the client.

It’s essential that you make sure your financial planner is capable of helping you in the way you need.

For example:

Most financial planners can give you advice on superannuation, but they must have completed specialist accreditations and be authorised by their financial services licensee to provide advice on Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSFs).

If you wanted to speak with someone about buying a property using your superannuation, you would need an SMSF, and would need to speak with someone who is able to provide advice in that area.

A financial services license holder will have an ‘Approved Products and Services List’ which determines what the planners they authorise can offer you.

Some licensees are very open and allow the planners to use whatever they want, while others will have internal research houses and they will determine what is going to reasonably serve the majority of clients’ needs.

Planners may request an exemption to offer something outside the list, if it’s going to be in the client’s best interests.

To check on your financial planner at any time, you can always check the Financial Advisers Register by searching their name, ABN, or Authorised Representative number.

What are the differences between the different kinds of financial planners?

I mentioned that financial planners come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s partly due to the sedentary nature of our job – we sit down a lot! 😉

Oh, wait, sorry! I meant, we are all different in what we do and how we do it.

You see, many financial planners work in different capacities.

A financial planner who is contracted to work for a super fund probably isn’t going to recommend you use a competitor’s fund.

A financial planner who works for a bank probably isn’t going to recommend you use a competitor’s super fund, insurance product, or investment manager.

Does this mean they won’t do their best to look after your best interest? Not at all!

I’m sure they will do the best they can with what they have access to. Nobody has a crystal ball to recommend you the guaranteed best product in the market (be wary of guarantees!).

What a financial planner can do, however, is provide you with advice and guidance on what is going to be suitable for your needs.

If you don’t feel like the advice is in your best needs, ask for clear, simple explanations on why you’re going to be better off by following the advice presented to you.

When I went for a job interview at one of the banks a couple of years ago, I was told that I would be remunerated on a base rate + bonuses depending on how much revenue I generated.

The sole focus was bringing in new customers and generating new streams of income.

What did this mean?

I would have absolutely no interest in helping someone on an ongoing basis, unless I could ‘up-sell’ them to generate more revenue. Yet, I would be expected to charge an ongoing fee and maintain that relationship.

To me, that seems like a bit of a conflict of interest. Ethically, I couldn’t go down that route.

Those incentives may have changed, but I highly doubt it.

Before commissions on products (aside from insurance) in 2013, many were incentivised by the type of super fund or investment they chose.

Now that regulations have tightened, you’ve got a much better chance of not being recommended a super fund or investment that isn’t in your best interest.

Either way, you should always ask about how your financial planner is remunerated for their advice (which should be in the Financial Services Guide that you ask them to go through, rather than handing it to you as a formality).

Now, this is where we get into the different ‘types’ of financial planners.

The term ‘independent financial adviser’ has been thrown around a lot lately, and some people have been hesitant to work with anyone who isn’t ‘independent’.

You can thank the industry funds ads and the fact that the financial advice divisions of the big banks have had a number of court actions placed against them in recent years for bad advice (not to say they’re the only ones who ever make mistakes).

ASIC have recently shed some light and clarified that an advice business can only charge a flat fee for each time you receive advice, and must receive no other form of remuneration in order to be deemed ‘independent’.

Sounds pretty straight forward, but if you’ve ever worked with a lawyer before who charges in 6 minute increments, there’s a chance you may be better off under a different type of arrangement.

Your financial planner might be self-regulating (they own and run their own licence) and simply have independent audits to retain that licence; they may be licensed by a bank or institution; or they may be licensed by an organisation which is not owned by a bank or institution, which authorises other financial planners to give financial advice.

Regardless of these different types, the most important thing is that the financial planner you see has your best interest at heart.

If they do, they can make a big difference in helping you make good financial decisions that will shape your future.

Just remember to make sure you get clear answers upfront about the services you’re getting from them, and that they understand your circumstances before they start recommending things to you (remember ‘the planner upstairs’?).

Is seeing a financial planner good value for money?

There’s a lot of free information on the Internet – some of it good, some of it not so good. Sometimes, it’s terrible!

The government’s MoneySmart website is a great starting point for some of the best free, unbiased information available! There are calculators, tools, and blogs on almost any subject relating to your financial world.

If you have the time, I would strongly recommend visiting the site and browsing different topics to become better educated.

You should also create a free account with MyGov, which you can use to link all of your government services. If you’ve lodged your own tax return, you should already have an account which is linked to the ATO.

Using this service, you can find all of your super funds – and even consolidate them into the fund of your choosing (you should research the fees, investment performance, insurances available, and your options for nominating beneficiaries before switching, or seek advice about which fund would be appropriate).

There’s almost 20 billion in lost super held by the ATO, spread across more than 5 million accounts – and a third of Australians have more than one super fund!

It’s worth looking to see if you have some.

Would you let your bank charge you 2 lots of fees for the same service?

Then why have two super funds which may be doing the same thing, charging you double fees?

I once saw a guy under 30 who had over 25 super funds because he never took his super fund with him, and many of those were held in the same super funds.

If you found a bank account you forgot about with even just $200 in it, you would do something about it, right?

A financial planner can identify your needs and recommend a particular course of action in order to help you achieve your goals.

This is a key point of difference between using a financial planner and simply becoming better educated or using a freely available online calculators.

The online tools are for single purpose calculations, or general information, and can’t factor for every situation. They also may not be able to guide you through each step.

A financial planner can also identify other needs you may not have realised you had.

Do you need to be rich to see a financial planner? Absolutely not!

The fees you’ll be charged will depend on the type and complexity of the advice you need.

Ultimately, you’ll need to determine if you’re happy where you are on the ‘financial potential’ scale. If you feel like you could be higher on the scale, or you’re uncertain about your future, what price do you put on peace of mind, or professional advice regarding your finances?

Why are the costs higher than getting your tax done by the guy at the supermarket?

Well, you saw how quickly he entered some basic data and submitted your return. There’s not much to it.

Financial planners do a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, in addition to the time you actually see them (which, in itself, may be a number of hours).

This includes:

  • Researching the client’s existing products and services (have you ever called a super fund before? It’s not uncommon to be on hold for an hour or more);
  • Researching suitable replacements (if any);
  • Ensuring the advice is in the client’s best interest;
  • Preparing and documenting the advice;
  • Presenting the advice;
  • Implementing the advice;
  • Technology tools to facilitate accurate projections and identify needs; and
  • lots more.

These costs are in addition to various registrations with government bodies and professional bodies (if applicable), professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance, and other subscriptions that must be held in order to hold a licence to give financial advice.


If you don’t know what you need, but feel like you could be doing better, it could be a good idea to speak with a financial planner.

I’ve helped people with minimal amounts of super and assets, riddled with debt, to make some major changes to better themselves.

I’ve also helped people with multiple debt-free investment properties, and significant assets, continue to strategically grow and protect their wealth.

Don’t feel like you need to be ridiculously well-off to see someone about your finances. I find some of the ‘poorest’ people have the best control on their finances, and some of the ‘richest’ have no handle whatsoever.

In any case, if you feel you’re not achieving your ‘financial potential’, it’s probably a good idea to speak with a financial planner!

About the Author

Grant Millar is a Financial Planner and Money Coach.

Grant prides himself on taking a constructive and educative approach to helping people better manage their financial world, rather than just taking over and leaving his clients in the dark.

Grant typically focuses first on ensuring people are able to effectively and independently manage their personal finances by undertaking his “Money Coaching” program, before going into any complex strategies (if needed).

Grant specialises in helping pre-retirees of all ages and circumstances to eliminate and avoid bad debt, accumulate wealth, and better manage their money in order to live a more comfortable lifestyle.

Grant is the managing director of G & A Family Investments Pty Ltd trading as Inspired Financial Planners which is an authorised representative of Synchron, Australian Financial Services Licence 243313.

You can contact Grant:

By phone: 0421 252 356

By email:

Or through his website.

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