How to avoid an Evans Dixon disaster

Some revelatory news breaking over the last few weeks as listed wealth giant Evans Dixon comes under fire with some aggrieved clients choosing the AFR (here and here) as their messenger. The fact that coverage of the issue has yielded ten more complaints to the paper over the following weekend may indicate this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In a nutshell, the suite of internal products recommended through their paid advice have performed poorly, and understandably they are looking for answers. One product in question, their heavily recommended US property fund, URF, is causing growing concern and highlights some red flags that one should always consider before accepting advice.

Aligned advice

It seems to an outsider, glaringly so after the Royal Commission anyway, that an adviser recommending you invest 50% or more of the cash on the table in house branded products should warrant some sort of third party review.

Unfortunately for most, the time and cost incurred in seeking the initial advice generally mean that seeking alternative points of view can be beyond what is left in the schedule after family and work commitments. The sad part of this scenario is that these clients have suffered the common triple ignominy of disappointing returns from investments recommended in the advice they have paid for, from the product supplier!

Moral: Be wary when you are being charged an advice fee to go into an investment product from the same company that is advising you. Don’t be afraid to ask what other external investments have been considered for a comparison.

High Fees

The URF in the spotlight at the moment was a cash cow, no question. The obscurity of the type of the investments in the fund makes the fee structure hard to mark to market, and the fees charged are hard to quantify. For mine, fees are a headwind to performance, so it always pays to ensure that you are paying a market rate for the exposure. If stated fees start in the 100’s of basis points, you have to wonder if there is going to be much left over for the investor!

Does this mean that it is a bad investment opportunity? Probably not, but like all things, the less you know, the less you should have invested as a proportion of your net worth.

Moral: unless you are investing in moon rocks, there is a high probability that similar investments exist and don’t be afraid to ask for comparable options, reasons why they were not selected and fee comparisons.

Poor Liquidity

The ability to sell an asset at a time that suits yourself is a critical component of investment. The more obscure the investment the harder this is to ascertain at the time of purchase, especially amongst the promise and emotion of an advice presentation that is centred on your retirement.

Investments in vehicles like Listed Investment Companies (LIC’s) ensure longevity of funds for the manager, as capital is effectively locked up and means that as an investor, the onus is now on you to either (a) find a higher bidder in order to get your money back or (b) accept whatever opaque mechanism exists for getting your money out. Demand for the LIC can wane meaning significant discounts in unit price when compared to the actual amount invested in the fund, with the seller left to absorb the difference.

Moral: Again, the less you know, the less you should have exposed to the investment. Making sure at least some, if not most of your investment should be placed in areas known for high liquidity, such as large capitalisation public companies and federally sourced bonds.

Selling stock in your own company

Undoubtedly, the girth of the Dixon Advisory and Evans & Partners brand was built on strong client relationships. Why wouldn’t clients want to share in the potential prosperity of an upcoming float?

The advisory model of building a network of advisers and clients before essentially becoming a product provider is a well-trodden (and lucrative path) which appears to still be socially permissible until the carousel stops.

The obvious red flag here is not the promise but the reality that the combination of (a) house advice, (b) big positions in in-house products and (c) equity in the firm, means that most of your eggs are in one basket. If the in-house products have problems, you will quickly learn that you are not as diversified as you thought.

Moral: Diversify. But more importantly take a big picture look at your diversification to make sure that there is not a common thread running through what might at first glance seem unrelated.

Wrap up

Any investment can go wrong, I am not indicting the URF for making mistakes.

What I am saying though is that mixing aligned advice, high fees, illiquid assets, and related party transactions will quite likely create an incentive structure for financial advisors and wealth practices that don’t match the needs of the average investor. When assets are going up it doesn’t matter, but when things go wrong the negative effects can multiply and when it comes to securing your retirement, it pays to keep it simple.

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Tim Fuller is Head of Operations at the Macrobusiness Fund, which is powered by Nucleus Wealth.

The information on this blog contains general information and does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Past performance is not an indication of future performance. Tim Fuller is an authorised representative of Nucleus Wealth Management, a Corporate Authorised Representative of Integrity Private Wealth Pty Ltd, AFSL 436298.

Comments

  1. Aggrieved advisers / competitors are providing most of the fodder in the AFR.
    Clearly URF has been a fee fest and a client disaster.
    Reputational damage is done but the URF will likely be cleaned up with many of the assets to be sold.
    Some of their other funds have not done too bad. NEW and EGD are examples.

  2. Very wise commentary on this issue Tim. It seems to me that there are many financial “advisers” out there who simply want to pillage their unsuspecting clients via obfuscation and mammoth fees in order to make massive profits for themselves.

  3. Ah…… the old ‘independents’ It’s going to be rather amusing a few years form now, all the major insto’s are out of advice and the public, govt and regulators will be scratching their heads as to how the independents and your friendly local accountant have still delivered the same (or worse) conflicted outcomes.

  4. sbinderMEMBER

    I can’t imagine that the Evans Dixon clients that got sold or funds directed into the Axsesstoday “simple” corporate bond issued mid last year would be too pleased.

  5. Seems incredible that they were able to obtain/retain an AFS Licence with conflicted advice everywhere. Makes a mockery of the AFSL regime. Not a lot different from the heady days of Timbercorp/Great Southern.

  6. DominicMEMBER

    But … but … ‘regulated entity’.

    Good to see regulation working so well for the common man (again). From collapsing buildings to suspect investment advice regulation has been a resounding success. The great thing about regulation, you see, is that it leaves the consumer with nothing to worry about.

    “Don’t think, buy with confidence!”

  7. thomickersMEMBER

    The fund also has high exposure to low cost apartments outside manhattan (closer to newark). Based on my knowledge of new york metro, that area is cheap because you’ll get murdered