Aifa faces a tough task in its hunt for a successor to Stephen Gay (pictured) as director general. Suitable candidates working at a senior level within financial services are likely to have a three to six-month notice period and, with the clock ticking down to the retail distribution review, the trade body cannot afford to hang around.
The recruitment process will take place against a difficult economic backdrop, which saw Aifa post an operating deficit of £194,000 in the year to June 2011. Difficult decisions lie ahead in terms of funding and there is an urgent need to regain the support of advisers disenfranchised from the trade body.
That is if Aifa chooses to rep-lace Gay at all. Aifa council member and West Riding Personal Financial Solutions managing director Neil Liversidge has proposed a more “collegiate” app-roach to leadership, with decisions ultimately made by the elected board and chairman.
In the furore last July over Aifa’s decision to open its membership to restricted advisers, the trade body’s move to a college structure with separate subsidiaries for IFAs, restricted advisers and mortgage brokers was largely overlooked.
The new structure could mean the Aifa council opts for three directors rather than a single director general. Recently appointed policy director Chris Hannant could be drafted in to head either the IFA or the rest-ricted camp but his background lies in public policy, so it may be a while before he is up to speed with adviser issues.
A three-way director split could make it difficult for advisers to see Aifa as anything other than three disparate groups under one umbrella, as opposed to one united organisation fighting for advisers’ common interests. It could also prove problematic in agreeing policy if three egos are fighting to be the Aifa representative view.
Another way round the timing issues could be to secure someone to lead the organisation on an interim basis, to give Aifa the opportunity to carry out a robust selection process and wait out notice periods.
Ultimately, what Aifa needs more than ever is a strong leader who can take the organisation, and advisers, forward. Having a director general as the face of Aifa still seems the clearest way to organise the trade body.
Aifa director Robert Sinclair is an obvious candidate, either on an interim basis or permanently. He is well placed for the position and has the advantage of having relationships with advisers and policy experience.
Tenet distribution and development director Keith Richards has also been suggested as a possible candidate. He appears to be on top of the issues advisers are grappling with and has spoken out about the rising costs of regulation and the need for Financial Services Compensation Scheme reform. However, many small firm members are already critical that bigger adviser groups and networks hold too much sway at Aifa.
Positive Solutions chief executive Jim Reeve has also emerged as a potential successor. Reeve, an Aifa council member, is known for being vocal and, while controversial, advisers may be prepared to get behind someone seen to be fighting their corner. However, he seems invigorated by the challenges facing PosSol in the RDR run-up and would need to take a huge pay cut to be considered. His multi-tie background at Barclays Fin-ancial Planning could also be unpopular with members.
Also in the running is Aifa council member and former Bluefin Wealth Management chairman John Simmonds, who left Bluefin at the end of last year. Simmonds oversaw the launch of the Bluefin business combining different distribution firms acquired by Axa, so would recognise the challenge in bringing together the wide range of advisers Aifa is looking to represent.
Former Aifa policy director Andrew Strange could also make a return, having left the organisation last August. Advisers were quick to commend Strange for his contribution to the IFA market and he clearly has the policy background necessary to secure adviser interests in dealings with the FSA and on the European stage. He was also instrumental in securing the ability for advisers to resubmit their tariff data on which the FSCS interim levy was calculated, after firms suffered huge increases in their levy contributions to cover the cost of compensating Keydata investors.
SimplyBiz chairman and Aifa council member Ken Davy has been linked to the role. Davy has been a long-standing champion for independent advice, and has also been vocal in his opposition to the introduction of annual statements of professional standing to certify advisers are meeting the professionalism requirements of the RDR.
Former Aifa director general David Severn has publicly lent his backing to the IFA Centre, the trade body set up by Gill Cardy earlier this month. He says: “There is a lot of member dissatisfaction and Aifa needs someone with real presence to try to rally the organisation. The decision by Aifa to represent restricted advisers casts further uncertainty over who would fill the role.”
Institute of Financial Planning chief executive Nick Cann says: “The individual would need to have the personality to draw factions together, oversee some specific short-term objectives and the energy to communicate the agreed messages to the key stakeholders. A good public profile is also important. Clark Kent would be a good suggestion.”
Lansons public affairs and regulatory consulting director Richard Hobbs says: “The question is whether the job description is significantly different this time, given the strategy work that was done last year. It is a very demanding brief, not least because of the amount of regulatory change that is afoot. It presents a very challenging environment for advisers.”
Names in the frame
Sinclair would be able to hit the ground running as he has the relevant experience across both Aifa and the Association of Mortgage Inter-mediaries. He has won plaudits for his role in lobbying the FSA on the mortgage market review and has been outspoken about the FSCS’s call on the industry over Keydata. However, he has already been overlooked for the job once when Chris Cummings stood down.
Reeve would bring a vocal style of leadership to Aifa that some members would relish. He is seen as likeable and enthusiastic and sits on the Aifa council but advisers would have to look past his previous roles at Barclays and Zurich. PosSol’s latest results show the highest-paid director received £501,000 so he would need to take a steep pay cut.
Richards’ distribution role and policy knowledge means he is well suited to the role but it may add to the sense among some advisers that networks run the show at the trade body.
Simmonds left Bluefin last year “to consider new challenges” so the timing could be. He is also on the Aifa council. However, his previous job as Towry Law managing director will not curry favour among some Aifa members.
Ex-policy director Strange may make a comeback. He would have the right policy back-ground and adviser relationships but lacks experience in leading a big organisation.
Davy sits on the council and has been a fierce advocate of the importance of independent advice. It might not be the right time in his career to think about such a move and he is still passionate about his other business interests.