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Child’s play

I may enjoy the odd childish joke every now and again but the last time I checked, and correct me if I am wrong, I am still an adult.

That being the case, and knowing that my fellow independent financial advisers are also grown-ups and that the people working within life offices are at the very least at the age of majority, why is it that a grown-up discussion between advisers and product providers is so hard to achieve?

The latest alarming development in the breakdown of adviser-life office relations comes in the form of adviser firms reportedly being threatened with closure and in some cases life offices simply shutting agencies down without any notice being given to the adviser. The adviser’s clients, on the other hand, were kept very well informed by the life office. Funny that.

It’s a pity the same courtesy couldn’t have been extended to the advisers concerned.

For adviser firms relying on agency agreements to ensure they meet whole-of-market criteria, the ramifications of recent life office moves to close, or threaten to close, the agency are extremely damaging and potentially fatal for their business model.

But that is what we have come to expect from an industry whose patriarchal tone and attitude when dealing with advisers has resulted in its very latest wheeze of cold-calling advisers’ so-called orphan clients directly to try and get them on the books of their direct salesforces.

Basic manners, of the kind one would expect from grown-ups, would surely dictate consultation ahead of such action being taken and within a reasonable timeframe.

What we really need is to tear up the old agency agreements and redraft them, removing the life office bias and power and replacing it with wording that protects the interests of both parties on a proper commercial basis. Individually, we do not stand a chance of successfully pursuing such a radical agenda, but as a collective we could drag the life offices to the table.

Healthy adult relationships are based on mutual trust and appreciation. By devising and adhering to some basic ground rules, no one need miss out.

At the very least, and until such a time as we can sit round the discussion table together and thrash out more equitable agency agreements, the right currently being exercised by life offices to close agencies should be carried out within a commercially viable timeframe in which the adviser is given due warning and explanation and a binding assurance that for six months the adviser’s clients will not be approached directly.

Just as the toddler is taught that grabbing another child’s toy is impolite and told to give it back, some enforcement of “grown-up” behaviour around issues of client ownership would make for a far more civil industry. Let’s try and all play nicely now.

Sheriar Bradbury is managing director of Bradbury Hamilton

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