A GOOD personal-finance book is tailored necessarily to the peculiarities of a country's banking, insurance and financial systems. The two books reviewed here provide general pointers for people in Hong Kong and Asia, but are vital tools for anyone battling with the United States and British systems. The United States-orientated guide is called Smart Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisers (Bloomberg Press, US$19.95). Its no-nonsense author, Lynn Brenner, writes a weekly personal finance column for the Long Island-based newspaper Newsday. Most usefully, Ms Brenner focuses on traps into which ordinary investors often fall when investing, getting married and divorced, buying and selling a house, coping with job loss, choosing insurance and planning for retirement. For example, she warns investors to examine the fees involved in transactions - sales commission fees, administrative fees and marketing expenses. These are all passed on to customers and eat into any investment returns. A few of the questions she raises are relevant to readers in Hong Kong. For example: 'What steps should I take ahead of time if I have reason to expect I'll be laid off?'. The answer, of course, is pay off debts, maximise access to new cash and find out about severance and employee benefits. Many parts of the book do not apply to Hong Kong, such as the section on 401(k) employer-sponsored retirement-savings plans. The detailed taxation issues would horrify any tai tai worth her salt, but Americans are used to slogging through such tax-related detail every year. Nevertheless, the format of the book is clear and the writing simple and straightforward. The layout pleases the eye, and the font is easy to read. Most of all, it is a breeze to use. This is a slickly presented, solid guide that gets to the point. Its British cousin is stuffier. Somehow, the British never quite manage to imitate the glossy stylishness their US offspring have mastered so completely. Be Your Own Financial Adviser (Which? Books, GBP9.99), by Jonquil Lowe, takes a tack similar to Ms Brenner's book. It helps individual investors with the problems of pension schemes, choosing investments of varying risk levels and questions of inheritance. Echoing the spirit of her trans-Atlantic counterpart, Ms Lowe writes: 'If you can evaluate the advice you are given, you both protect yourself and help to raise standards in the industry as a whole'. So, the book trawls through the issues of whether to buy private medical insurance or go with the National Health Service, the ins and outs of personal equity plans and investing in building societies. All of this would be quite useful to British readers, but perhaps not to anyone else. Conceptually, the book delves into more detail, drawing flow charts that help answer what you should do with your money, building risk pyramids. Ms Lowe advises her readers to put most of their money into building-society instant-access accounts and the like, and only a fraction into gambles. On the whole, the material is not as well organised as the US book and is harder to use as a handy reference for specific questions. The writing is waffly and begs a sharper edit. Both books provide the investor with useful indexes. If you are sitting in Hong Kong, need an investment guide and have to choose one or the other book, go with the American one. At least, Ms Brenner tells readers what questions they should be asking themselves or their financial advisers. The answers are likely to be different for Hong Kong, but knowing the questions is half the battle.