The FCA can do no more than apply its own rules. The rule in question is Cobs 6.2A.3 and is about how a firm (and not an individual adviser within that firm) can present itself to clients.
The firm can say to retail clients that it is independent if the advice it offers on RIPs meets two conditions: it is “a) based on a comprehensive and fair analysis of the relevant market; and (b) unbiased and unrestricted.”
The test, therefore, is not, as the FCA seems to be saying, based on who does what but on the quality of the advice as delivered to the client. Does the advice as delivered satisfy the rule? The matter should be viewed from the client’s point of view: did he or she receive advice based on a comprehensive view of the relevant market and which is unbiased and unrestricted?
In my view, the firm can describe itself as providing independent advice if it meets that test, regardless of whether the individual advisers who put the advice together could individually claim to be qualified to do so on their own.
That said, I suppose that the individual who actually sits down with the client to deliver the advice must be sufficiently qualified and experienced to know that that advice was properly independent and, equally important, suitable under Cobs.