Image is everything, as a brand consultant once told me and as he was from the consultancy that gave the world Hobnobs he must be right.
For most IFA firms, the closest they have got to being a brand is using the IFAP logo. The logo has the pound symbol as its centrepiece and, given the oft-made accusation that we IFAs are only interested in commission, this is at best unfortunate.
As we strive to promote the concept of advice as having intrinsic value, perhaps we need a logo more in keeping with the image that we desire, suggestions on a postcard please.
In the same vein, we also tend to associate certain activities with certain groups or types of individuals. For example, consider my own ethnic group, the Scots. Watching the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, I spotted the Scots' contingent easily as they were all wearing kilts. At the Winter Olympics I stayed up late to watch the curling, where the Scots have a good track record. So, given the opportunity to promote one's ethnic roots, why was there no Morris dancing in the Commonwealth Games by England? After all, if synchronised swimming is a sport, why not that ancient thigh-slapping sport?
I mention this as there is certain aspects or features that we associate with occupations or professions. Sometimes they are positive and sometimes they are not.
We only need to consider the recent storyline in Coronation Street. Now those of you who know me know that my knowledge of the soaps is limited but, given the coverage elsewhere, I decided to check up on the Street's own IFA. He handles clients' money and gets all sorts to make out their cheques to him (so much for the FSA education drive) and overall this portrayal can only reduce the public's confidence in advice generally.
I then found myself watching The Weakest Link, where the IFA is told by the host that he is only interested in the commission. He says he is not but quick as a flash Anne Robinson tells him that that is what the public thinks. The IFA does not try a comeback and the viewer is left with the impression of commission bias.
This confused image has also got into the investment area with the love of trackers by all in Government. Yet many people have recently complained to me that the possibility of trackers going down in value was not regarded as obvious by the great majority of the public.
What I do not understand regarding trackers is that if on one hand Ron Sandler wants asset allocation, then why invest 100 per cent in equities and in a single geographical sector?
What we need are individual benchmarks based on risk profile and intended term of investment. Basing them on these narrow indicators does no one any good.
The perception that the public has of us is not as rosy as some would have you believe and perhaps we need to break the umbilical cord to insured products or at least promote advice to the specific exclusion of the promotion and or sales of products.
If we truly wish to progress, then shooting people in barrels is a non-starter but pushing them (the odd regulator) over Niagara Falls in a barrel does have a certain appeal.
Robert Reid is principal of Syndaxi Financial Planning.
He can be contacted via email c/o the editor at email@example.com