We’ve all marvelled at the amount of information on the internet and the speed with which we can compare available products.
Nowhere has this access to information been better exploited than in financial services, where you can use websites to make cheap share trades, find the best priced mortgage and get travel insurance that saves you heaps.
But although e-commerce is now normal, Australians still distinguish between low cost convenience transactions, and high value strategic decisions. For most people there’s still a divide between the ease of technology and the need for advice.
But how do you decide whether to buy online or use a broker or adviser?
One criterion might be size and importance.
Australians can search for mortgages online and apply over the phone. However, the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia has found that of the growth in the mortgage market in the year to June 2014, 61% was driven by brokers. That was a 32% increase on the 2013 figure. Clearly, Australians like interaction with an expert when they take on their biggest debt.
The opposite is the case when applying for credit cards and operating bank accounts. For these transactional interactions we’re comfortable to use the internet and call centres to administer our daily banking.
Consumers also transact directly online with their super and their share portfolios. This seems to work best with users who have good knowledge of the options and understand the choices.
Insurance is another matter. If you’ve been insuring your car for years, a quick price comparison on the internet can prepare you for buying more insurance over the phone or online at renewal time.
However, many insurances are strategic parts of life planning, and they need expert advice.
Even simple insurance such as home and contents has to be managed so you’re never underinsured, and you aren’t paying for things you don’t need and being excluded from the cover you do need.
More than half of retail insurance premiums are written by advisers and brokers, probably because Australians think about insurance once a year and they need someone who thinks about it every day.
The advantage you get with an adviser is obvious in life insurances which include death cover, total permanent disablement (TPD), trauma and income protection. You can buy tax-friendly life policies in your super fund. But when you use an independent adviser, you can buy cover for your circumstances, with tailored inclusions and exclusions.
Life insurance issuers rarely have more than one top product line and premium at a time, with deals changing to showcase different products. Some insurers are strong in some occupations. An independent adviser knows this. Luckily, it isn’t a choice between the internet or advice. The trick is to use both, according to their strengths and your needs. What do you favour? Internet or advice? I’d love to hear what you think.
MARK BOURIS is executive chairman of wealth management company Yellow Brick Road, which sells financial advice and home loans.
You can contact Mark on Twitter.