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A matter of trust

Do solicitors and accountants deserve the professional respectability they command?

We often read in the newspapers of solicitors, accountants and their firms accused of poor or illegal practices. Even the revered actuarial profession has had its professionalism challenged recently.

The truth is that all three of these professions are as respectable and professional as they always were and it is just the sharper focus now on industry which has called their status into question.

Consumer confidence in solicitors and accountants remains high. They are looked on with a degree of deference akin to doctors. It is often this status that IFAs are judged against by.

Is this fair. No. How did we reach this situation where solicitors, accountants, actuaries and IFAs are all tasked with the same challenge – responsibly managing consumers’ and corporations’ financial affairs – but with different levels of respect and status?

Certainly, one reasons is age. Independent financial advice is a young profession, only 20 years old. The legal, accountancy and actuarial professions have been around for decades and with this comes a level of respectability.

So, as financial advice grows older, it will become more well known, trusted and more respectable.

But is the examination process necessary to qualify to practice. The perception and reality is that the educational route to becoming a qualified actuary, accountant and solicitor is long and demanding resulting in a chartered title and the need to adhere to standards set by a professional body.

The public understands this, and it gives them a strong degree of confidence that those in these occupations know what they are doing.

Historically, independent financial advice did not lead to a professional qualification. Now, we have a legitimate series of qualifications to complement the regulatory requirements.

The PFS provides designations for its members, so there is a clear framework to enable the public to understand the level of competence of their adviser. This gives them a greater level of confidence in those managing their financial affairs.

It also means that as an industry we now have a pathway of qualifications that we are promoting to educational establishments. We want to make independent financial advice an aspirational career – held in the same esteem as accountancy, legal and actuarial occupations.

It will also allow those individuals who gain these qualifications to go out to other professionals and create new business alliances that will expand everyone’s business.

I hear talk about a multiplicity of qualifications and how this must confuse the consumer. But in reality this framework is straightforward and easy to understand. The PFS will play its part to get the message across to the consumer but to be successful we all need to promote our hard won status.

I would hate in the coming years to still be having the debate about why the public trusts solicitors and accountants more than they trust IFAs.

Tim Eadon is chief executive of the Personal Finance Society

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