When I saw Money Advice Service chief executive Caroline Rookes’ comments a few months ago about her concerns around regulated advisers’ ethics in the context of post-retirement advice, I did not feel any anger, just relief.
I felt relief because I knew policymakers had these concerns but, up until that point, had not been prepared to say so. Instead, they justified many of their policies that discouraged people from seeking advice at retirement on fallacious cost grounds.
But while I did not feel personally slighted by Rookes’ opinion, it is hard to know that, still today, it is shared by a lot of consumers, many of whom have had terrible advice over the years.
Indeed, any anger I feel is reserved for those crooks and idiots who have fleeced consumers in the past, wrecking their lives and making it harder for good advisers to earn a living and help others.
So now is the time to work together with the guidance providers to help solve the problem that consumers at retirement face: “How can I find a good, trustworthy adviser to help me?”
Many advisers belong to one of the professional bodies which impose their own code of conduct on top of FCA rules. We need the advice profession to speak with a single voice to the MAS, The Pensions Advisory Service and Citizens Advice to establish a set of minimum standards at-retirement advisers will demonstrably meet.
I suggest they include the following areas: minimum professional qualifications; demonstrable experience of retirement advice; commitment to reasonable advice terms and conditions; independent sample audit of advice given; open publication of any complaints from past clients; and consequences for failure to meet standards.
I know there are many firms which would already meet these standards and be prepared to be transparent around it.
Many more will be prepared to join them if the guidance providers will commit to referring consumers to firms meeting these standards. In time, perhaps, such firms will be allowed to deliver front-line guidance, especially if there is a solid track record of delivering good outcomes for consumers.
Either way, the adviser community is going to have to pay its share of the levy to set up and run the guidance guarantee.
It, therefore, needs to come together with one voice, focused solely on helping the consumer at-retirement and show it can be trusted to play a key role.
What we must insist on from policymakers is honesty in the policy debate in this area and a proper willingness to work with us to help people make the right decision with these new pension freedoms.
Alan Higham is retirement director at Fidelity Worldwide Investment