The older I get, the more I realise that, in life, definition is one of the most important things. In my last column, I talked about professionalism, only to read someone in another publication suggesting that we needed to define professionalism. My first thoughts were not printable, then I reflected and realised that, again, it was all in the definition.
Taking just one definition, the issue becomes even clearer as it defines professionalism as “the skill, competence, or standards expected of a member of a profession”. The difficulty is that standards tend to be specific whereas regulation is now principle-based. So can we square this circle?
Professionalism is both an individual characteristic and a mindset. All professions carry internalised values that will be reflected in the way in which work is carried out and the ethical standards that are adhered to by that set of professionals.
As an example, a concept of “financial adviser professionalism” would require that advisers recommend the most appropriate products/ investments treatment for their clients rather than one or more which would yield them higher remuneration or would meet an imposed objective of financial-only target (targets nowadays would have to comply with treating customers fairly and not be purely revenue-based).
To date, the professionalism target has been aimed at advisers but if we are to have the appropriate environment, we need all those involved to display and operate prof-essionally so that would include providers, platforms and non-advising staff.
We are told that the ABI has taken away the requirement for open market options to be dealt with in 10 days. If those days were consecutive, then its news to me. Recently, we dealt with one annuity company which does not even diarise requests for money to transfer to them.
The idea now is for the retirement date to be the deadline. Whoever thought this up must be the same person that believes there will be more than four significant and active life insurance companies in the next five years.
Just how professional is any body that moves the goalposts along the lines of service standards. These standards are as helpful as travel time tables where the time for the journey is overstated to avoid those standards ever being breached. I just don’t think that the ABI or many of its members understand service. Perhaps a course at the Ritz Carlton leadership school would awaken their need to care for the clients instead of patronising them.
Let me suggest a simple way forward – one discharge form for all, plain English on all forms, especially those checking on the breach of the lifetime allowance. The latter really bugs me because it is rarely accompanied by any thing that explains it to a normal person.
While we are on the subject of definitions, just what does the term “whole of market” mean? Back in the days of polarisation, it would have been easy to check but now? With platforms, just what will define whole of market? Is it the wrapper or the funds used? With the current trend to own funds/Oeics, does this align with whole of market? I think not. If whole of market is to be used, then I think the “better than best” needs dusting off, too. Let’s just make sure we are on the right path.
Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Financial Planning