What Makes A Great, Expatriate Financial Advisor?

Perception is everything.

In my view, a great financial advisor is someone who cares deeply for clients.

He or she provides an ongoing fiduciary standard of care; keeps investment costs down; avoids the entrapment of investment linked assurance schemes, such as those provided by Friends Provident, Zurich International and Generali (You can read more about them here).

But some measure greatness differently. Clients are more like bowling pins to be knocked down at the local alley.

Here’s a video showcasing the Ten Great Habits of Financial Advisors. Inspired by the expatriate market, it describes qualities of the best advisors—those with the ability to earn millions of dollars a year in commissions.

Any mention of doing the best they can on behalf of their clients? Sadly, no.


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I enjoy promoting advisors working well on behalf of their clients. They’re the industry’s true legends.

But in the wild-west meat market of the expatriate world, such advisors are rare.

“Legendary” advisors are those who can seal as many deals as possible, in the shortest possible time.

Meanwhile—especially if the products are investment linked assurance schemes—carnage is left in their wake.

You can watch misguided glory in the video below:


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Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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57 Responses

  1. Debrilepe says:

    OMG, HOW SCARY! They sound like they’re door to door salesmen, selling trinkets or even cookies. But what they’re selling IS your whole financial future! What they sell can really be life changing and these videos don’t make any comment to that. I’d like to see a whole lot more focus on fiduciary care, rather than a focus on having coffee and walking away with $5K in your pocket!

    • I agree 100% Debrilepe. The expatriate market, for most financial advisors, is much like the wild west. Fiduciary care? Sadly, it’s rather a world or commissions. Wam, bam, thank you ma’am.

  2. Afonso Vieira says:

    Just watched half of the first video, it is too idiotic to continue. I think this line, from the first video, defines what is the Devere style that many expat focused IFAs adopted:

    “You gotta love going out there, meeting people, and selling. For me it is the best job in the world: where else can I go out, meet somebody, drink their coffee, eat their cake, and walk out with 5 thousand dollars in my pocket!”

    It would be a great line for a swindlers movie… But it is happening in real life, real people are getting hurt. And I am not surprised that the speaker keeps mentioning Singapore, where expats are an easy target because they think the financial industry (like most things in Sing) is, checked, verified, safe.

    I have a hard time understanding how come this people can sleep at night. Thanks for sharing Andrew.

  3. Screwed! says:

    The guy in the second video sold me an investment. Totally screwed me. Crazy high costs. Gushy commission for him. Can’t get out without killer costs. World record holder for duping 185 people in a single month?!?! WTF?

    • So he is selling investment linked assurance schemes…I was hoping that wasn’t the case, considering how many people are involved. A guy hammering so many people out of his own self-interest is going to leave a terrible trail of broken promises and financial heartache. I doubt he could operate in a more regulated environment. With luck, one day, these guys will be held to some kind of professional standard. I believe that commissions are banned in the UK and Australia. But the expat market is a true wild west. Still. With education, perhaps we can change that one day.

    • Afonso Vieira says:

      Hi Screwed,
      I assume you are talking about Steve Young, which a quick google search shows he is working for iFS – International Financial Services, in Singapore.

      Have you tried to contact/complain to the MAS (Singapore’s regulator?)? And/or to FPAS (the financial planning association)? And/or to the insurance company directly? And/or leave a message in Andrew’s blog looking for more “screwed” people, and take action together? In Singapore when it is an isolated complaint / one single individual complaint versus a financial company (bank, insurance, broker…) nothing much happens. But when there are several people complaining about the same individual/company, action by the regulator is almost immediate.


      • Screwed! says:

        Pros and cons to that. It would drive me nuts. I’d keep thinking about it. Would feel better to enter a cage match with the guy.

        • Debrilepe says:

          Hi Mr/Ms Screwed,
          You never know, you could get your chance to take him out in the ring. Doesn’t IFS sponsor the White Collar Boxing thing that goes on in Singapore every year or so? Maybe you could take him on there?? Let us know, and you’ll have a cheering section!
          Sorry this happened to you, then to see him bragging about it on a video must add insult to injury. I hope that you’re able to get some compensation… Good luck!

    • Sold says:

      Steve Young that guy in the video has been suspended from all financial advisory activities by his firm a few days ago. Allegedly under investigation for not meeting integrity and honest requirements.

  4. Michael says:

    How telling it is that the definition of a great advisor which many (not all) believe is one who is driven by money-hungry greed rather than fiduciary care – it’s a sad sign of the day and age in which we live and ought to be criminal!

    • It’s hard to believe it’s actually real Michael. Most ethical advisors limit their number of clients, ensuring they only have as many as they can adequately serve. I interviewed one gentleman here in Singapore who caps his client number at 70, while providing ongoing care. To think that somebody will sign up more than 100 clients in a month is crazy. And sadly, most of these local jokers get people into products sold by Friends Provident, Zurich International and Generali. They get hammered if they try to get out early. And the advisors make insane commissions. Your word is perfect: criminal.

  5. Ruthy Oms says:

    Arrogant and not sure if it is ethical. He PLAYED WITH PEOPLE FEAR (like making a cut board portrait body/sport injuries to a group professional football players who just had their hard training session) and manipulated their so called prospect clients to make financial/investment decision in a (closed) conference room UNDER PEER PRESSURE (Did he mention 50+ football players?). How could someone think carefully in that situation?

    For the Furness guy, I didn’t see any solid substance in he presentation. It was a random list for a salesman not for a financial advisor.

    • Ruthy Oms says:

      Arrogant and not sure if it is ethical.

      When you PLAY WITH PEOPLE FEAR (like making a life-size cut board to portrait all sport injuries to a group of profession football players who just finished their late night training) and manipulate them to make financial/investment decision in a closed conference room under PEER PRESSURE, chances are you are going to get 50+ contracts signed. These football players just want to go home, shower change and go out. The guy set up a dead trap.

      As for the Furness guy, I don’t find any solid substance in his presentation. It was a random list to be a salesman not a financial advisor

      • Thanks for your comment Ruthy,

        I think you’re right. It’s all about sales, not ethics. It’s no wonder the industry has such a poor reputation. I feel badly for the good advisors doing ethical work, purchasing low cost products for clients, helping them with regular goal setting sessions etc. The average expat doesn’t know the difference between an ethical advisor and a selfish asset gatherer. In fact, the greedy ones come across as more convincing, with higher promises. They clearly harm people’s futures–preying on fear and tickling greed.

        • Goodfellow says:

          It’s the greedy ones that are willing to stretch the truth or flat out lie about the investment and the company they work for, so of course they often come out looking more appealing to the investor. I have first hand knowledge as to how these guys operate and it is amazing the bs advisors tell their prospective clients. Everything from projected returns as high as 20%, to completely making up their personal work history and education, to extreme exaggeration as to the size of the company and assets under management. This is even before they mislead the investor on the details of the investment itself. There was one guy that used to sell a long term regular savings plan as an “18 month bank/savings account”. I think many of these advisors start out trying to be ethical but over time you get ethics creep. They slowly start bending the truth so they can get a longer term and higher premium amount and then the fat commissions start blinding the advisor as to the real harm they are doing.

      • Debrilepe says:

        Hi Ruthy,

        You bring up SUCH an interesting point here. I hadn’t even thought of that! To me, I was just shocked how this Steve Young, can post on a video that he makes a million a year and has broken a world record of 198 sign ups! (Mr/Ms. Screwed, you actually have your numbers wrong, he signed up 198, not 185, but what’s a few thousand dollars here or there? -;)

        In my opinion to brag about that on a YouTube video is just crazy. What prospective client would want to see that those are the goals of the advisor and the company, International Financial Services, or IFS? But, I guess, I’m not a prospective client, as I probably don’t make enough money to be worth his effort, and probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble to reach his million a year anyway. After all, a million a year has to be a LOT of clients, paying a LOT of commissions!

  6. Sean says:

    They approached us at school, (cold call to the administration) about 5 years ago, offering the usual (and quite relevant) banter about how are you preparing for your retirement. I remember in our first meeting, I was right upfront with them stating that I didn’t intend to pay any more than maybe 1 to 1.5% for financial services, they at that point in time were quite clear that that was unrealistic but that they could certainly find something in the region of 3%. Of course, by our second or third meeting the number of the absolute baseline had increased to 4 to 5%… they assured me that it was quite ridiculous for me to expect to pay any less than that in international market. The salesman in question (I have his name if you want it, a very nice man but aren’t they always?) continued to attempt to follow up with me over subsequent years, I think my last email from him was in 2008. I remember asking how he can afford to send his kids to TTS and the nice shiny Lexus in the car park, I can’t remember his response but I know it didn’t allay my concerns about their overheads. Yes, all of the products they were advising were Aviva etc, but mainly Zurich.


  7. Screwed2 says:

    I’m Screwed2. I’m American, and International Financial Services sold me some of these products, now I’m screwed 2ce. 1st by the ridiculous fees and surrender penalties and 2nd by the IRS.

  8. Goodfellow says:

    Friends Provident pays for Frank Furness to visit brokers to provide training. The video of Steve Young is one of his tools. Ethics is a relative term, I honestly think that a large number of the commission based advisors believe in what they are selling. In the UK it is very common to have an insurance based investment, and I have never met a Brit with an online investment account. Unfortunately there are a lot of expats that don’t know the proper way to invest and get sucked into the sales process. At the end of the day people buy people (for the most part) and these commission guys are well trained to be liked and sell. I have one of the few fee based advisories in China and I spend much of my time educating people on the difference of what we do versus the high commission guys and still not everyone gets it. At the end of the day many investors are looking for someone to trust to make the investment decisions that they don’t quite understand.

    • Goodfellow,

      That must be one of the most frustrating parts of the business: trying to do the right thing, but people not recognizing that you offer something better than a Friends Provident-type of offshore pension. As a personal finance teacher, I’m trying to educate kids on this. They will grow into far more educated, discerning financial consumers. I only wish regulators would put a stop to commission sales, as they have done in Australia and the UK.


      • Hey Goodfellow,

        I wonder who removed those two videos from Youtube. I guess a couple of guys felt like they fell on their own sword. Ouch.

        • Goodfellow says:

          it was quite stupid to put those videos on youtube..so you teach personal finance in High School. That’s great, is this an elective class? Is it common for the international schools to offer this type of course?

          • Hey Goodfellow,

            Yes, the personal finance class is an elective. I wish it were mandatory. Fortunately, it’s a popular class–all three of my sections for the second semester are beyond regular capacity, so I’m thrilled about that. It isn’t a regular course among international schools, but I’m really proud of the program we have built at Singapore American School. Students really like it. And as you can imagine, parents love it! How long have you been in China? Where are you from originally? Where are most of your clients from?



          • Goodfellow says:

            Hi Andrew,

            It’s great that you offer this class, managing your personal finances is a basic skill everyone should learn as early as possible. Education has always been an interest of mine and have thought about approaching International schools in Shanghai to develop a similar course. Would like to learn more about how you structure the class. In regards to myself I try to keep a low profile on public blogs, it is amazing the abuse fee-based advisers get from from the insurance sales people, especially in Shanghai. They are extremely threatened by our existence. I would be happy to continue this conversation outside of the blog I think you have my email, is yours listed in somewhere?


      • Aussie Expat Adviser says:

        Hi Andrew, it would be great to see other countries follow suit with the changes we have gone through in Australia. As of 1 July 2013 the level of disclosure that we have to provide to clients before they become a client is almost too much but I don’t think that’s a problem, it just means they get more paperwork. Better too much than not enough. Then ongoing we have to provide them with a Fee Disclosure Statement (FDS) every year which outlines to the client how much they have paid to us in fees over the past 12 months.

        As a adviser who services Australian expats from Australia I would come across 3-5 horror stories a week of expats being duped, conned and straight out lied to. Latest one was a client in Shanghai who after 5 years was going to lose 76% of his capital for a “early” redemption.

        I believe the MAS in Singapore are making slow changes to adopt a similar program but all that will mean is that the less regulated markets like Thailand, Vietnam, China etc will become the new homes for these “advisers”.

        • brett says:

          Aussie Expat Adviser, do you have any Japan based Aussie-expat clients?

          • Brett Evans says:

            Hi Brett,

            yes I do. I have a couple of long termers but most would be 2-5 year year residents. There certainly has been a lot of activity and debate over there for the past 6-12 months about the declaration of assets for citizens and residents alike. It’s like a Japanese FATCA.



          • I do Brett. They could buy off the Canadian, Aussie or British markets using the brokerages I mentioned in the post.

  9. No Surprise says:

    It’s no surprise that they removed the videos. I can’t imagine that they would want their valued clients knowing how they really felt about them. I wonder if IFS clients are at all concerned about the amount of senior staff who are leaving, the 1% charge for investment advice when no one is currently licensed to dispense that advice or the fact that their CEO has been hauled into bankruptcy court by HSBC this year. Or do they cover up this information too?

    • No Surprise,

      The irony is that they posted those videos in the first place. They didn’t mind the world seeing it then….funny how they aren’t as proud now. Do you have a personal experience to share with IFS? Thanks for offering your comments. This stuff is important for people to learn—as you know.

    • Debrilepe says:

      Hi No Surprise,

      Your comments really ARE a surprise! I’ve seen International Financial Services promote themselves so much around the expat community, that for a few brief moments I actually thought they were one of the better ones out there… that is… until I saw these videos! (Hey Lindell, good job re-uploading these!) No Surprise, is what you say really true? How can MAS let IFS get away with this?


      • I have a lot of faith in the Monetary Authority of Singapore. I think they will eventually insist on a fiduciary standard of care for financial advisors, which will end the wild west commission wrangling that occurs with a few financial firms operating here. Fortunately, the De Vere group left Singapore. They claim they didn’t want to operate here because they were fined for selling an offshore pension product to a person who was leaving the country. But the romantic in me hopes they were pressured by MAS. Either way, these commission hungry models won’t last in a country with an educated, ethical base. I have plenty of faith in Singapore.

        • No Surprise says:

          The MAS have built a decent, ethical framework. But what happens when companies decide to circumvent requirements and get “Creative”?

          There are pages of legislation dealing with the “fit and proper” criteria for a Director of a Financial Services company in Singapore – including an obligation to report to the MAS any bankruptcies or pending actions. However, the onus is on the individual to report rather than the MAS to investigate.

          Similarly the MOM sets minimum salary requirements for EP holders. But what happens if a company makes a transfer of the agreed/stated salary every month but internally accounts for that (or a large proportion of it) not as a salary payment but a debt against commission earned? Playing by the rules. or playing the system? However you view it, it does account for the Commission-Hungry salesman syndrome as without the high commissions, they are literally hungry.

          • screwed2 says:

            From what your saying, things don’t seem kosher with ifs. Don’t want to say anything here, but I’m not a happy customer.

  10. American says:

    I’m an American who has lived in Singapore for a number of years. I opened an account through Friends Provident (FP) when I first came to Singapore on the recommendation of a friend. After a few years of investing, a tax preparer I started working with and a financial advisor I met with both strongly encouraged me to close this account, citing heavy fees and possible U.S. taxation issues. I withdrew what I could, but a chunk of my investment would have been hit with a huge penalty, as you mention above, so I have kept that portion in to this day. Had I to do it again, I’d never have opened an account with FP.

  11. Lindell Lucy says:

    These two men are perfect examples of why commissions should be banned worldwide, not just in the UK and Australia. I was quick enough to download a copy of these videos before they were removed from YouTube, and I have reposted them on my blog here:


    According to the Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

    I won’t be taking the videos down. These men have only themselves to blame for posting them in the first place.

  12. Mike says:

    I heard someone in Singapore is suing IFS in court. Apparently, they believe this Steve Young guy in the video sold them products that they think were wrong for them.

    • Hi Mike,

      I don’t know anything about the lawsuit. But I hope the advisor didn’t sell an unsuitable product. And I hope the advisor didn’t mislead the client. Unfortunately, this is all too common.


      • No Surprise says:

        I believe that the lawsuit to which Mike is referring was lodged by an American client and centers on questions of jurisdiction and suitability. It’s not the only claim currently on-going.

        • Screwed2 says:

          You say, it’s not the only claim currently going on. I’m curious, is anyone pursuing a class action then? If there are several unhappy people, has anyone reported IFS to MAS?

  13. Fred says:

    Here is a blog that seems to be a spin off to this one:


    There are quite a few more comments about Steve Young and the IFS video. It’s had over 1200 hits, I wonder how many of these readers are potential customers?

  14. John says:

    I had the misfortune of working for this company and I left after only a short time because I wouldn’t / couldn’t recommend (sell) these products anyone, not even someone I disliked. What is worrying though is that not only do the majority of advisers have no credible background in finance (few have degrees and some have never worked anywhere else), they don’t seemed to understand their own products – highlighted by the fact that many of them have Vistas/ Generalis etc!
    The exams set by the regulator in Singapore are far too easy. It only took me about a month to pass all the exams with very limited prior knowledge & no experience. What shocked me most were the fact directors and senior management from large Banks & the Big4 invested with them! It certainly makes me think twice when I’m reading a certain auditor’s reports / industry outlooks!

    • Panzoneria says:

      Hi John,
      Many thanks for sharing your work experience with iFS, my friend has thought about working for them as well and I was wondering whether he can get in touch with you and learn from your experience, and potentially avoid wasted months/years?

  15. Lindell Lucy says:

    One way for victims of ripoff investment products to fight for justice is by petitioning law enforcers. If you can show that your adviser accepted undisclosed commissions that were well above the average market rate, then he or she likely breached the anti-bribery laws of your country.

    Below is a petition aimed at Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, requesting the agency to charge insurers, fund managers, and brokers with bribery.


    Please feel free to sign the petition or use it as a model for your own purposes.

    The more signatures the petition gets the better. Any positive developments in Hong Kong could potentially cascade to Singapore and other countries.

  16. Lindell Lucy says:

    Andrew has done a great job of warning people about the dangers of “insurance-linked investments” and exposing salesmen who misrepresent themselves as “independent” financial advisers. Other Singaporeans are also doing a fantastic job of raising public awareness about the troubles with this industry. If you are interested in learning more about what they have to say, check out the links below:

    Former Singaporean Presidential Candidate Blasts ILAS, Whole Life, and Other Ripoff Insurance Products

    Group of Young Singaporeans Slam Insurance Industry for ‘Unethical Profiteering’

  17. Renee says:

    I love this line:

    “I enjoy promoting advisors working well on behalf of their clients. They’re the industry’s true legends.”

    so, where can I see your recommendations?

  18. Alastair Campbell says:

    Wow interesting stuff.

    I managed to find the guy on LinkedIn. He has some very high level clients who have written him exceptional reviews.

    I’m not sure which side to believe.

  19. Neil says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I just finished your book, and thought it was really good with lots of interesting information. Thanks for the information about the fees and these financial advisors, if that’s what they call themselves.

    Hey, I was wondering, why did you take down the video of Frank Furness? I tried to play it from your kindle book, but it didn’t work, and that’s when I saw you’d taken it down. This guy has lots and lots of videos on youtube, and of the ones I’ve watched, he sure talks a lot about how to win a sale in the financial industry. As you write in your book, it seems like that’s all they care about. Check out this quote from his website, http://www.ifalife.com/articles.asp?AID=1519,

    “where I learned my selling skills was in financial services where I qualified amongst the top half percent of salespeople in the world at the Million Dollar Round Table ‘Top of the Table’ level.”

    Great. Just what I need, a top sales person whom I can trust, to look after my financial future. I think he cares more about making his commissions than he does about helping me with my retirement.

    The other guys you write about are also pretty cool especially the commando guy, Doug Tucker. What a joke that is, I laughed and laughed at the quotes in the article from International Advisor. Really now?


    Steve Young wasn’t too bad either. I thought the world record bit was kinda funny though.


    • Thanks Neil,

      Actually, it wasn’t me who took it down. Frank Furness complained to Google. The video was uploaded by Lindell Lucy, in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, he had some pull and removed the video that was uploaded. Shame about that. It was a pretty funny video.


  20. Christina says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Do you have any recommendations for financial planners in the Vancouver area?

    • JJ says:


      Are you talking about Vancouver Canada or Vancouver Washington? Look for Fee Only planner. This minimized the conflict of interest. You should expect to pay a fee for the plan preparation. If the adviser manages your portfolio you should expect a fee of up to 1%/year.

  21. JJ says:

    There are good and bad advisers everywhere. Most advisers enter the profession with the intent of doing good for their clients. Unfortunately, the typical business model makes it very difficult for advisers to support themselves; hence, the easy temptation to steer clients into high commission products. A new adviser can survive if he/she has financial support or a savings to make it through the rough period 1-3 years able to support themselves at 5 years.

    The firm in my opinion do not deliberately train the advisers to be bad. It’s the few bad apples that give the company a bad rep.

    I myself have seen this happen in the big firm , small firm, and even the bank. It really is up to the adviser what type of practice he/she wants to build, and must mentally make that commitment.

    I myself went to a fee only practice, and it took over 5 years.

  22. Mike says:


    Question: Regarding the Friends Provident Premier Capital Redeption 10 year policy, which a particular snake oil salesman from deVere sold to me a few years ago (complete with a terrible selection of expensively managed funds), how much do you reckon said salesman earned from FP by way of commission, given that I signed up to a US$1,000 monthly contribution?

    Many thanks,


  23. Catherine says:

    That guy in the video, Steve Young, is currently suspended from all financial advisory activities. Saw this notification from his firm, IFS.

    Dear Client/Business Partner,

    The Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) and iFS require all licensed individuals to act with integrity and honesty which provide clients with a Fair Dealing outcome. Allegedly, Mr Young had not adhered to this requirement and an internal investigation is in progress and until this is complete, Mr Young has been suspended from all Financial Advisory activities. A further update will be provided when the investigation is complete which we anticipate will be on or around 31 March 2018.

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