Financial services are going through a period of turmoil. Markets are proving how unpredictable they can be, consumers are increasingly demanding (but often ill-informed and disengaged), the debt burden continues to grow while regulatory initiatives come thick and fast from UK and European sources.
We have two choices. We can be like the drowning man who clings to the wreckage in the hope of finding dry land or we can turn and face the onslaught, steering our own course into the storm and, by deciding what we want, work to make it happen.
For too long, the IFA community has felt at the mercy of the elements. We have made a virtue of being fleet of foot, intrepid, dynamic and entrepreneurial. These are terrific virtues but they imply a sense of making the best of things rather than being masters of our own fate. We have been outgunned and often outflanked by bigger, more cohesive, vested interests who have been able to downplay the role and value of professional advice.
At a meeting of Aifa last year, we decided that a sea-change was necessary. We would assemble robust arguments, supported by unquestionable depth of evidence, and informed by insight and analysis which clearly demonstrated that financial advice delivers benefits to clients, the local economy where firms are based and to UK plc.
In short, we decided to remake the case for professional financial advice so we could dispel the myth that advice is simply expensive marketing or, worse still, all about selling products to people who do not know they need them and do not want them anyway.
The manifesto sets out the six core principles that bind together the financial advice community. This article is too brief to relate all six and the values that underpin them. It would rob them of their impact to be précised in a few hundred words. I ask you to read them today, either by reviewing the copy of the manifesto we sent to you, or by logging onto the Aifa website (www.aifa.net). More copies are available but as given one of Aifa’s values is to take account of environmental decisions, I commend soft copies.
The manifesto offers a bold vision for the future of our profession. It sets out, among other things, the relationship we want to see with the regu-lator and how they supervise us. Regulatory action is the last resort, not first response. To lose sight of this is to give up on an entire industry and the millions of consumers served. I choose this as an example of the content of the manifesto because it shows how Aifa wants to use the document.
We are starting a journey where we will need the support of all stakeholders to succeed. The endeavour will be worthwhile as it will result in a more professional, better respected, less punitively regulated advice community. To achieve this, we are seeking the support of profess-ional bodies, policymakers, regulators, product providers, investment managers, consumer groups, the media, and, most of all, members.
Like any manifesto, ours has been produced for consideration and to elicit response. We have not taken this step lightly but in the full knowledge and realisation that by being bold we may fail but by not being bold we will certainly fail.
This will be a year of milestones for Aifa. It started with the launch of the manifesto. On the same day, we also launched new research which put paid to any lingering doubt that financial advice delivers tangible financial and emotional benefits to those who receive it. This research also clearly demonstrates the value of the financial advice community to the UK economy and makes for compelling reading.
We have major events planned. Members can rely on Aifa to be their campaigning voice, to lobby to protect their interests and defend their corner but we have to do more than defend. Now is the time to promote the professional advice community, now is the time to set the agenda that we want delivered, now is the time to provoke change. Those firms that want to be part of a valued, ethical, and admired profession should join Aifa.
Chris Cummings is director general of Aifa