If you want to send shivers down the spine of any investor, mention “Steinhoff”, or “Sharemax”, or any one of the many other spectacular corporate collapses that have plagued both local and overseas investors in recent times.
Quite apart from the high-profile failures it’s been a hard few years for investors generally, and if your nest egg has taken a painful tumble recently you may well wonder whether you can sue your financial advisor for giving you bad advice.
The short answer, as several recent cases have highlighted, is “It depends…”.
Case 1: A R2.5m claim succeeds
Case 2: An R11m claim fails
Case 3: A R5m claim fails
To the High Court now for some insight into the range of factors that a court is likely to take into account in deciding liability –
The bottom line, and some advice for investors
Let’s start off with this thought – unless you are fully qualified to make your own investment decisions, seeking help from a financial advisor is a no-brainer. A trained and certified professional advisor brings elements of insight, knowledge and objectivity that you can never match on your own.
Just be sure that your chosen advisor is the right advisor for you and is both competent and trustworthy. As a first step check for FSCA (Financial Sector Conduct Authority) authorisation (and a list of products the advisor is approved to provide) here.
If worst comes to worst and you feel that your advisor has let you down and should refund you, the bottom line (in a nutshell) is that to successfully sue you will have to prove that you suffered loss in consequence of following your advisor’s negligent advice.
The million dollar question (literally perhaps) is of course – how do you establish that necessary element of negligence? Whilst it will never be easy, and whilst each case will be treated on its own merits, the SCA (in the R11m case above) usefully held that an advisor’s legal duties are mirrored in the FAIS (Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services) Act and its Codes of Conduct. So perhaps start off by proving a breach of the General Code of Conduct’s provision that “an authorised financial service provider ‘must at all times render financial services honestly, fairly, with due skill, care diligence and in the interests of clients and the integrity of the financial services industry’.”
There’s also the FAIS Ombud option
You may not need to go to court to recover your losses, in that the “FAIS Ombud” (Ombudsman for Financial Services Providers) has the power to resolve complaints against FSPs. It can award “fair compensation for the financial prejudice or damage suffered” up to its jurisdictional limit of R800,000. In at least two Sharemax complaints, compensation orders have been issued, but many more have been dismissed.
Ask your lawyer which route is best for you.
And last but not least, some advice for financial advisors
Make sure that all your documentation protects you from liability as much as possible, that you have insurance cover in place in case you are sued (in the R2.5m case mentioned above, the insurers were ordered to indemnify the advisor against the claim), and that you comply strictly with FAIS and its Codes.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)