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Barclays’ exit is a high tied mark for aifa

James Salmon considers the fallout as Barclays quit Aifa

Barclays’ decision to terminate its Aifa membership arguably represents the first major fall out from the trade body’s restructure last month.

The bank’s official line is that the decision to pull advisers from its IFA arms, Sedgwick and Gerrard, out of Aifa was purely a commercial decision and has no reflection on its long-term commitment to indepen- dent advice.

Given that paying the annual Aifa membership fees should not pose a problem, it will be difficult to persuade the IFA sector that there is not more to the decision than meets the eye. The fact that the news also comes midway through a multi-million-pound TV advertising campaign to promote its multi tie advice proposition, Select Choice, will only add to suspicion that it has more fundamental strategic implications.

To an extent, the decision has come as something of a surprise. The move by Aifa to exclude pure multi-ties, accept hybrid firms and set up a whole of market subsidiary meant that Barclays could remain a card-carrying member of the IFA trade body. After all Barclays, in post-depolarisation terms, is a hybrid firm with two IFA arms – Gerrard and Sedgwick – positioned under Barclays Financial Planning.

Barclays also appeared to welcome Aifa’s decision to accommodate whole of market advisers with open arms. Indeed, just last month, a spokeswoman for the bank indicated to Money Marketing that its Select Choice arm would apply for membership of AFA, and expressed a desire to continue maintaining a close relationship with the trade body.

So the decision not to renew its membership marks a U-turn of sorts. The bank has made a concerted effort to keep one foot firmly in the IFA camp, billing the proposition as a whole of market service, clearly distinct from other multi tie propositions in the market. Whenever referring to Select Choice, Barclays Financial Planning commercial director Stephen Ingledew gives the distinct impression he views multi-tie as a dirty word. He says Select Choice is “multi-linked, not multi-tied”, with Barclays advisers having the flexibility to look outside the panel to meet a customer’s more niche requirements, effectively acting as whole of market advisers.

But the IFA market, including Aifa itself, has not bought this distinction. The bank’s refusal to accept the multi tie label for Select Choice has infuriated many IFAs who prefer a spade to be called a spade, poten- tially contributing to the breakdown in the relationship between Barclays and Aifa.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall earlier this year when the then Aifa director general David Severn publicly dismissed Select Choice’s whole of market credentials. He argued that the bank was just paying lip service to whole of market advice and was not taken by its promise to swap its panel around if a provider stopped pulling its weight. He pointed out that, realistically, the bank would spend far too much time and money laying down the IT infrastructure to link up efficiently with its six providers to ever justify swapping providers.

Informed Choice managing director Nick Bamford, who carries considerable backing among the IFA sector, has been the most vocal critic of Select Choice’s whole of market claims. He believes the launch marked a clear departure from whole of market, independent advice. The subsequent decision not to renew Aifa membership has just made it official.

He adds: “Barclays clearly have no commitment to IFAs. This multi-tied proposition or multi linked proposition – whatever it is called – is commission based. These people are salesmen, not advisers.”

Halton Insurance Service Mike Fry, like many of his counterparts, will not be sorry to see Barclays go. He says: “I am certainly not going to lose any sleep about Barclays leaving Aifa. I am sure that Aifa won’t be either, as it probably saves them from an uncomfortable relationship. However, I am completely surprised by Barclays’ decision, given that they could have renewed their membership if they had wanted to.”

Perhaps it is fitting that as one very big bancassurer leaves Aifa, the biggest national IFA, Positive Solutions has confirmed that the vast majority of its members will renew their membership. Positive Solutions chief executive David Harrison has been particularly scathing about multi ties, getting involved in a high-profile slanging match with Thinc Destini and Millfield bosses Simon Chamberlain and Paul Tebbutt.

Positive Solutions marketing manager Daniel Harrison, aside from expressing concern that Barclays pulled advisers out of Aifa against their will, says the whole episode and the debate behind it just reflects the confusion caused by depolarisation. He says: “Aifa and the whole market is getting too muddied. Firms should say what they are and not pretend to be something they are not.”

Pension Transfer Solutions managing director Carl Melvin believes Barclays has finally nailed its multi-tied colours to the mast he says: “This commercial excuse is just a smokescreen. By quitting Aifa, Barclays is saying its multi-tie proposition is more important than its independent arms. You have to ask what resources and capital will be committed to their independent offerings after they have so clearly nailed their multi-tie colours to the mast.”

It would be a mistake to read too much into Barclay’s decision to quit Aifa, especially as the decision could be reversed at any time. But it would also be naive to accept the move as having no reflection on Barclays’ commitment to IFAs.

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