At this time of year particularly, we recognise the need to find a workable peace and a way of living together. But it is establishing trust that there is common ground that presents the challenge.
Many may have been surprised by the loss recently shown in the accounts of Aifa. What this demonstrates is that even an established, experienced family can see its finances challenged as it meets the ever increasing regulatory demands within a difficult economic environment. The economic challenges faced by advisory businesses are ones which are inevitably felt also by their trade association.
But anyone thinking of taking on the mantle of representing IFAs’ interests with a team smaller than that currently employed by Aifa may pause for thought. There is an exceptionally varied range of stakeholders today.
Dealing with Brussels, Westminster and Canary Wharf across an ever widening range of regulatory issues (both routine and exceptional) is an escalating challenge. Those who see more tightly-defined interest groups as the answer rather than representing the broader interests of the community, may not be capable of achieving real results due to difficulty in being heard by those who matter, or may lack the bandwidth to respond to the diversity and volume of policy.
What has been noteworthy in recent times is the praise heaped on the AMI, part of Aifa. Its work with other trade bodies and in speaking with one voice for its members is well recognised. As the only mortgage broker voice, its board and members adhere well to the agreed core messages. Its member firms also tell the same story in their interactions with politicians, civil servants and regulators.
This cohesive voice ensures it is listened to. But a body in any walk of life that cannot genuinely claim to represent an “industry-agreed message” risks being ignored and given no opportunity to influence what the rule-makers decree.
It is not that the AMI or Aifa are perfect by any means, indeed, they have always evolved. Aifa continues to change how it drives its income in response to the changing environment. Its council has had tough decisions to make this year, with the best interests of the wider community at their heart. It will never satisfy the whole community on all issues but in order to further the interests of the majority it needs the broadest possible membership, consistent with the need to articulate clear policy positions, governed by a representative board and working groups.
There is always more that unites than divides us in our debate, more to agree upon than fight about, and I would submit that when all is said and done we all believe in the same thing – the power of professional financial advice to change people’s lives for the better.
Stephen Gay is director general of Aifa