A couple of years ago, I remember writing an article about IFAs lobbying their MPs on some issue or other. As I recall, I was dismissive of the idea, arguing that a bunch of opinionated, ill-informed and incoherent advisers trying to argue the toss with their democratic representatives would probably do more harm than good.
That was also the opinion of senior figures at Aifa at the time, who were worried that the image of IFAs might be tarnished if everyone started to engage in self-indulgent freelance lobbying.
In the aftermath of that column, I received one or two emails from PR people, who wrote to thank me for my views and argued that it was, of course, completely right to leave weighty issues in the hands of “professionals” like themselves. A few others also agreed, pointing out that they had better things to do with their time, such as growing their businesses.
However, by far the largest number of responses came from advisers – and one prospective Tory candidate – who disagreed completely with this view.
Their argument was that, first, IFAs are the constituents of MPs and have the right to voice their opinions and try to persuade Parliament to back or oppose measures they believe in.
The second argument was that well researched and polite lobbying from constituents who have extensive know – ledge and experience on a particular subject and are generally considered to be professionals in good standing has the potential to be successful.
I could not really fault those arguments – save for the fact that, from my own direct experience of watching IFAs in action, there is always the opportunity for someone who is uninformed or lacks gravitas, but has a big mouth, to damage everyone else’s reputation by putting their foot in it.
But there is also a third reason why the process of becoming involved in public debate is sometimes best carried out by “ordinary” people and not professional lobbyists or even their trade bodies.
It is the fact that, ultimately, the only way any organisation that claims it represents their members can succeed when it argues on their behalf is if it can show that they are 100 per cent behind what it is saying.
That is why I think Martin Bamford’s open letter to the FSA, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the Treasury on the subject of the interim levy over investment intermediation activity is such a fantastic initiative.
Here, after all, is an IFA whose standards of probity, also exemplified by his father, are unimpeachable. Martin and Nick Bamford represent probably what is best about the IFA community.
It is because of that unimpeachable character that Martin is best suited to lead the argument against the way that IFAs are being clobbered yet again as a result of the regulator and FSCS’s inability to come up with and then apply rules that differentiate clearly between product manufacture and advice.
If scores, hundreds, even thousands of IFAs were to show their support for his open letter, for example, by signing the letter themselves and making sure their MPs know what they are doing, it would go a long way towards informing the authorities that their ability to ride roughshod over the industry will no longer be tolerated.
Of course, this being Martin’s letter, there will be elements of it that not every adviser will agree with in detail but the overall substance is correct and that is how it should be treated.
At this point, one or two readers may well ask – and what of Aifa in all this? My view is that Aifa should have organised something like this in the first place – bring together a dozen or more IFAs in Martin’s mould to write such a letter together, send it out to its entire membership and ask everyone to back it.
In other words, instead of assuming that its “real” work is best conducted behind the scenes in quiet attempts at persuasion, it ought to have mobilised.
That, after all, is the only way in which those in authority will begin to understand the IFA viewpoint.
What should Aifa do now? I think it ought to back this letter as if it had been written at Austin Friars House. It needs to become infinitely more energetic, publicly so, in its attempts to persuade Mark Hoban and others that an injustice is being perpetrated on the IFA sector over the current funding rules for the FSCS levy.
This is also about Aifa persuading IFAs that it is committed to defending their interests. Sending out a circular, or writing a mealy-mouthed progress report cum viewpoint will no longer cut the mustard.
One final thing – the essence of successful lobbying is about finding the right issue to lobby about. The implementation of the RDR is not that issue as the FSA is, for a change, right to insist on higher professional standards for advisers. But on a question that risks costing many individual businesses thousands of pounds each, this surely has to be worth sticking your head above the parapet for.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org