DIY Financial Planning – Solution or Illusion?

10 May 2016

DO-IT-YOURSELF (DIY) – the ubiquitous term that has, over the past half century or so, become more and more prevalent in consumer culture and is increasingly gaining a foothold in areas we would not have thought of decades ago.
It essentially refers to one taking on a task in an area without engaging the direct aid of experts or professionals.
In this age and time where almost every answer to a problem or question can be found on Google or YouTube, what can’t we do ourselves?
A phenomenon that has seen a boom lately is DIY financial planning.
It is commendable that a growing number of Malaysians actually recognise and acknowledge the need to address financial planning at this point in their lives. They see themselves as well informed and primed to take the next step in planning for their financial future as the advancement in financial technology coupled with an increasingly tech savvy population has resulted in people empowerment.
Countless websites are offering free financial calculators, price and product comparison tools. Even virtual fund managers (a.k.a. robo-advisors) are now a trend. Supported by the emergence of a plethora of personal financial products available online, it would seem that creating one’s own financial plan is just a mouse click away without any involvement from a real life person.
Locally, we have seen the launch of platforms such as Fundsupermart back in 2008, offering a wide variety of unit trust funds at lower costs directly to customers. This was followed by the availability of life and general insurance policies online provided by insurance companies including the likes of U For Life in 2015. Even leading local banks are providing online will writing services these days. With so many financial tools at one’s disposal, it is easy for one to take on the role of becoming one’s own financial planner.
But is it really that simple? Can DIY be the solution or does it simply present itself as an illusion of one?
The illusion
The underlying reasons why many individuals are inclined to go down the path of DIY financial planning are deep rooted in their preconception towards how financial planning should be done, such as:
I am in the best position to know my own finances and investment style;
Privacy is important to me. I am not comfortable disclosing every single detail of my finances to an outsider;
By doing it myself, I retain better control over where my money goes;
I do not want to take unnecessary risks by outsourcing to a 3rd party;
I am a highly qualified professional myself (e.g. accountant, financial controller, banker) and thus am more than capable of doing my own financial planning; or
I have very simple, safe, straightforward strategies and lifestyle (i.e. money in fixed deposits, no debts or dependants) so I can manage myself.
Proponents of DIY financial planning would also argue that going direct into the online financial products marketplace by far and large confers the benefits of time saved, money saved and you get to have your own say with what to do with your hard earned money.
What the individual fails to realise when he steps into the shoes of becoming his own financial planner is that there exists a void between the financial planning tools he is using and the products that he subsequently buys. Not only are the tools and products completely independent and detached from each other, there is the total absence of follow through from the planning to the execution stage.
You see, there are 8 key areas that affect your wealth. You will need to view your entire financial situation in a holistic manner with the ultimate aim of optimising your money in the 8 key areas of personal finance. Failure to do so gives rise to risks that could potentially affect your overall net worth significantly, costing you millions even.
Eight key areas of personal finance
Even if a DIY financial plan somehow manages to cover all 8 areas one by one, the overall effect will be on a rudimentary level at best because it still lacks total cohesiveness. It would be a fallacy to assume that just because one has a complete checklist of areas covered in his DIY financial plan, it is set to carry him through the rest of his future.
When you are your own financial planner, you are in essence, only capitalising on your own experience and know-how and will not be able to benchmark your financial situation against others like yourself.
Ergo, it is easy to be blindsided by the illusion of DIY financial planning when one underestimates the complexity of wealth management while at the same time overestimating his ability to successfully carry out a comprehensive financial plan.
The solution
To bridge this gap, consider engaging an independent financial advisor (IFA).
Being a full-time expert in his field, your IFA is able to provide personal service that cannot be obtained from an online financial planning tool. He can help you to optimise your money in the 8 key areas of personal finance holistically. More importantly, you will be tapping into your IFA’s vast experience, discipline and objectivity in handling your financial needs – advantages that a DIY route sorely lacks.
Your IFA is in the best position to offer you more investment and money optimisation ideas, lay out more benchmarking references and implement better measures to assess and control risks. Frequent performance reviews and updates will ensure that you are continuously kept informed of your investment performance.
This will result in your financial resources being better managed and steered towards a more holistic picture that encapsulates your true financial objectives.
Even as you engage an IFA, you are still the ultimate decision maker. You are completely involved in the entire financial planning process from start to end. This is because the real concept of working with an IFA does not mean outsourcing your financial planning but rather, working hand in hand with your IFA in a symbiotic partnership.
Your IFA is able to complement what you do in order to help you achieve your desired financial freedom by maximising your strengths while minimising your weaknesses. Any potential problems can be resolved quickly and effectively, leaving you with more time to do things that matter more.
In conclusion, DIY financial planning may be able to address certain aspects depending on the individual’s experience and expertise. However, you may find that you might excel in a few areas but would have gaps in others.
In that sense, optimising your money then becomes a behemoth task when each area of your personal finance is not managed as one cohesive function.
In fact, the DIY financial plan may even create a false sense of comfort, security and sufficiency, preventing one from reviewing his financial needs and requirements that may change from time to time.

As such, instead of doing it yourself, it might be worth your effort to sit down and have a chat with your IFA. Do it together instead. A little time spent now would save you more time (and pain) in the end.
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