Whenever you write a column, there will be weeks when one issue stands out above all others. At other times, there seem to be lots of things to talk about and it is not possible to weave them all together seamlessly.
Sadly, I suspect this is one of the latter type of weeks because what I want to say encompasses Aifa’s annual dinner, the election of my occasional sparring partner and Personal Finance Solutions managing director Neil Liversidge to a seat on Aifa council and the predictable online outrage at the FSA’s claim that it “had listened” to the industry over its RDR proposals.
Finally, I want to touch on some aspects of the response to Which?’s entry into the mortgage advice market, along with the suggestion that it does not rule out the possibility of becoming involved in other areas of financial advice.
First, the annual dinner, for which many thanks to my gracious hosts. The conversations I had were both interesting and useful, more about which another time.
The after-dinner speeches were a mixed bag. Anthony Hilton, long-time columnist at the Evening Standard, was amusing and erudite although I did wonder what had happened to the days when Aifa could call on the chairman or chief executive of the FSA to come and address them.
Sadly, Aifa chairman John Gummer, now Lord Deben of Winston, was much less exciting. Everywhere around me, people switched off after a mere five minutes of his “not more regulation but better regulation” speech.
If this was a job renewal application for the benefit of Stephen Gay, who had earlier stood and given his audience a bow, I suspect that the audition did not go well. Still, no one seems to have minded earlier versions of the same mantra, so what do I know?
Neil Liversidge was probably there too. If not, I am sure he will be in future. If so, he will probably be grateful that dinners like that are not occasions for people to start questioning what you have achieved in the preceding 12 months because if people try to hold him to his “manifesto commitments”, I fear they will be will be disappointed.
According to Money Marketing, Neil wants to “win compromises from the FSA over the RDR and look to introduce a rule change to bring about the continuation of authorisation for advisers changing firms”.
Predictably, his vow drew praise from the usual suspects gracing Money Marketing’s website. The fact that he is unlikely to achieve any of these aims appeared to escape them. They will draw comfort from the fact that one of their own is now on Aifa council, even if he manages to deliver little or nothing in terms of their aspirations.
Which brings me to the indignation over the FSA’s claims to have “listened” over the RDR. Speaking at a conference, FSA head of investment policy Peter Smith said: “The RDR has emerged from what is now four and a half years of work involving more formal and informal consultation with industry stakeholders than anything else the FSA has ever done.”
Within hours of that story going live, more than 40 comments appeared, many of them involving precisely the same people who had earlier been praising Liversidge. The critics’ chief accusation was that the FSA may have listened but took no notice of their views.
I suspect they are right – at least in the sense that the opinions of those who contributed to the discussion under the article were largely ignored. But then again, one has to ask why on earth the regulator would want to take them into account anyway. If your views are ridiculous, do not expect anyone, let alone the regulator, to take any notice.
Which takes me to Which? and its decision to enter the advice market. Money Marketing editor Paul McMillan takes a dim view of this, arguing that he “cannot see how promoting its service through comments alluding to the fact that the rest of the industry cannot be trusted does advisers any favours”.
A fair point, weakened by the fact that IFAs have prospered since time immemorial by telling anyone who will listen that they are better than bancassurers, life company salespeople and tied agents, who cannot be trusted.
Where Paul is right is in asking how Which? aims to offer a better service than existing high-quality advice firms. My suspicion is that it will deliver good, efficient and trustworthy independent advice but it will not be head and shoulders above the best IFA competition.
Still, the good thing about Which? is that in future we will all know what to aspire to – at least in theory. If you are better than them, big pats on the back all round. And if you get caned by the regulator, get your revenge by dobbing them in.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org