This article was published on 8 August 2015. Some information may be out of date.

Q&As

  • Banks shouldn’t favour new customers, but reader shouldn’t have big credit card debt
  • Gold doing OK in NZ dollars, but that’s not the point
  • Why advisers tend to favour low-risk investments and why they shouldn’t
  • Banks have a wide range of financial advisers

QI was a foundation customer of Trust Bank when it first opened in Auckland, even getting a nice little certificate. There were all sorts of promises of preferential treatment in the future (e.g. for mortgages) which never actually came to pass.

Since they were taken over by Westpac in 1996 I don’t think I have even had one phone call from any member of staff enquiring about reviewing my business. They seem quite happy to keep charging me interest on my overdraft and credit card, without showing the slightest interest in me as a customer. As I haven’t had any major crises, however, and don’t have an investment portfolio, that’s not necessarily a complete negative.

This brings me to my main point, which is the credit card itself. All the trading banks have, over the past year or two, aggressively touted for business by offering 0 per cent interest on credit cards for six months or a year — if you change banks.

This would be wonderful for me, because I could save several thousand dollars in interest, but why can those banks not extend the same offer to existing loyal customers?

They all make several billion dollars a year in profits — how much would it cost them to return some of that to the people who let them exist?

Changing banks may sound easy enough, but I now effectively have a 30-year history with my current bank after having been a customer of both ANZ and BNZ in earlier times. Both of them did enough things wrong to make me drop them — why would I consider going back to them now?

AWarning: you’re not going to like my answer.

It’s always galling to see anyone you already do business with, bank or otherwise, treating would-be customers better than you.

It’s also a concern that zero-interest offers might entice people into getting credit cards who won’t handle them well once the interest starts to mount.

But instead of concentrating on what the banks are doing, how about looking in the mirror? You worry me — paying thousands of dollars in interest. And it sounds as if you’ve been paying for quite a few years, which suggests you have big long-term debt.

That’s not the way to play the credit card game. Winners pay off their debt in full each month, so they never pay any interest. If you’re not in a position to do that, please — please — stop using your card.

Save before you buy something. That makes interest your friend as it boosts your savings — albeit rather slowly these days — not your enemy.

Meantime, rather than waiting for the bank to contact you, maybe you should take the initiative. Make an appointment and discuss whether your interest rate can be lowered at all — perhaps by moving money from a credit card to an overdraft, or by using an asset as security. In any case, set up a plan for paying down the principal.

Don’t just wish you were charged zero interest on your credit card, make it happen by having no debt!

By the way, your profit figures are too high. In the three months to last March 31, ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Kiwibank and Westpac made a total of $1.69 billion in pre-tax profits. Multiply that by four and you get $6.76 billion for a year. It’s a lot of money, but it’s not several billion a year for each bank.

Still, I’ll give you this: It’s common wisdom that it’s more efficient for a business to keep its customers than to entice new ones. While I don’t think it would work well for banks to give their current credit card customers a period of zero interest, it would be great to see them giving some sort of “thanks for sticking with us” reward.

QI agree that gold should only ever be a small part of an investor’s portfolio, as you said last week. However, you will be surprised to hear that if a New Zealand investor had bought gold any time in the last 12 months they would be comfortably ahead in NZ dollars despite the zero income.

In fact if they had bought 6–8 months ago they would be outperforming the NZ stock exchange even after the recent fall. It has been a terrific hedge against the devaluation of the NZ dollar that has been significant.

I agree the “gold bugs” who suggest the world is melting down will be crying into their napkins, especially if they have been invested in gold miners. However, it would be a good idea for you to know about the investment gold theme that is being driven by China, but is being completely ignored by western investors for now. Have a read of the following piece.

AI was aware that the recent gold story was different in NZ dollars. But the reader who wrote to me in 2010 predicted a big price rise in US dollars, so I stuck with that.

The point is that sometimes gold will do well in US dollars and sometimes not. And sometimes it will do well in NZ dollars and sometimes not. Also, it will sometimes be a good hedge against falls in shares or currency, and sometimes not.

Over the long run we would expect more rises than falls in the gold price, if only because of inflation. But gold prices are volatile. This, coupled with the fact that gold pays no return like interest or dividends, makes it pretty risky.

Thanks for the article you sent. But I’ve been around too long to get excited about anyone’s analysis of where the price of gold or any other investment is heading. To continue with my theme, sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.

It’s far wiser to make decisions about what to invest in — perhaps including a small holding in gold — based on multi-decade trends. And stick with your decisions regardless of shorter term wobbles.

QI empathise with your 76-year-old correspondent who complains about the conservative approach of advisers. I am a bit older than him and not quite as well off but, like him, we have our investments predominantly in shares — here and overseas — the latter largely unhedged.

Having been an investment adviser, I probably have a better understanding of risk and market volatility than the average investor.

The problem advisers have is that they are scared of being sued, or disciplined by the FMA, for giving clients a bigger exposure to risky assets than someone determines is appropriate. Usually, this is age-related and has nothing to do with the client’s needs.

In my experience, you can spend ages talking to a prospective client about risk and market volatility. They will say they understand, sign off on a plan, but when a bit of a correction takes place, some will be on the phone in a flash. They actually don’t understand risk and volatility at all.

That’s why advisers tend to err on the conservative side, mostly driven by the organization they work for. And why fixed interest features strongly in most investors’ and savers’ plans.

AThis is a worry. Riskier investments — such as shares and property — aren’t suitable for everyone. But anyone at any age who doesn’t plan to spend some of their savings for a decade or more, and who says they can tolerate volatility, should consider diversified risky investments or a higher-risk KiwiSaver or other managed fund for that longer-term money.

Over long periods, such investments almost always bring in higher returns — as long as the investor doesn’t panic and switch to lower-risk investments during a market downturn. So it’s a concern to think financial advisers aren’t encouraging these people to take on some investment risk.

There seem to be three issues here:

  • Can clients of financial advisers — or any other investors — learn to appreciate that riskier investments will sometimes lose value, and that they shouldn’t complain or bail out when that happens?

Surely a key part of an adviser’s role is to educate clients and hold their hands when downturns come.

As a Financial Markets Authority (FMA) spokesman says, “The advice process is an ongoing education for clients, as their own personal circumstances may change and events in the markets may change and impact their investments accordingly.”

I suggest saying the following to a client, before they invest $100,000 in risky investments: “Picture opening a statement from me that shows your portfolio is now worth $60,000. What would you do?” Perhaps type up their response and give them a copy.

  • Is the FMA likely to discipline an adviser who recommends higher risk investments for appropriate clients?

No, says the spokesman — as long as the investments are “suitable for the client’s circumstances and risk appetite.

“The FMA looks at the advice process as a whole and the methodology and analysis that was done to reach a recommendation.”

The code of professional conduct for authorised financial advisers says “an AFA must make reasonable enquiries to ensure they have an up to date understanding of the client’s financial situation, financial needs and goals and risk profile.”

There would, though, be questions asked if “information and the profile of the client demonstrated they were a low risk investor,” says the spokesman.

An adviser should keep “clear concise records of the advice process and recommendations for the client. Good record keeping is a critical part of the advisers’ code of conduct.”

The spokesman adds that “ensuring that there is a high standard of financial advice available” to older investors “is a key focus for us.”

  • Is a client is likely to succeed in suing an adviser in these circumstances?

That’s hard to say, but it seems highly unlikely if the adviser has properly documented the process.

QRegarding last week’s letter “Fobbed Off”, I think there is a point you have missed. Bank staff are not authorised financial advisers, therefore they cannot give financial advice.

ASome are and some aren’t. Every bank would have some authorised financial advisers. What’s more, I would think that all banks are “Qualifying Financial Entities”. And people who work for a QFE can give investment advice, but only on the products offered by the QFE — unless the person is an authorised financial adviser.

It’s rather complicated, especially when you add in registered financial advisers, or RFAs, who can advise only on simpler financial products, such as insurance, bank term deposits and mortgages.

The government’s current review of the law covering financial advisers is looking into ways to simplify all this — something I’m sure we’d all welcome.

In the meantime, I urge everyone discussing their finances with someone in a bank to firstly ask them about their qualifications.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to [email protected] or click here. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won’t publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Unfortunately, Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.