Journalists are in the business of asking difficult questions. When we are rebuffed, or where firms hide behind bland and/or blanket statements, it is somewhat to be expected.
But when we are trying to get hold of information that should be readily available and we are met with the same response, it is clearly both frustrating and exasperating. It is also potentially concerning.
Yet this is the situation we find ourselves in on the subject of advice charges.
We asked the biggest advice firms based on the number of advisers for basic information on initial and ongoing advice costs, services provided and any additional fees. There is nothing in there that would not be disclosed to clients, and nor were we asking for chapter and verse on the profitability of a firm’s advice business.
The reluctance with which many of these larger firms dealt with us, and the paltry responses we received, do not adequately reflect the levels of which transparency at which I know other firms operate.
Either the information is not available because it is not being given to clients, or there is an entrenched inflexibility in having an open discussion about what is being charged for advice.
For all the labouring that has been done over recent years to champion advice as a profession, this kind of experience does nothing to reinforce that idea. If anything, an outsider looking in would think these firms have something to hide.
I understand firms are wary about how their charges will be perceived when set against others. But in a functioning market, this would happen anyway – clients would and should be able to compare costs and services offered, and make a judgement call on that basis. I doubt advice firms are refusing to set out their charges to prospective clients on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”.
We asked narrowly focused questions about the cost of advice and were largely met with a wall of silence. I dread to think what the client experience is like.
There are many firms that understand all this already. They know the value of the service they deliver, and are confident to talk about it openly.
But it is a shame that among the largest firms, this is not the view held by the majority. On this measure alone, the RDR’s drive for transparency has well and truly failed.
Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing