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Debate, not diatribe

In my last article I charted the history of the debate over creating a single professional body for financial advisers.

I have held the view for many years that the only way we can re-establish the professional reputation of financial advice and planning is by a body where practitioners take ownership of standards of knowledge, skill and conduct. Ground lost in the 1980s to regulators must be retaken if the profession is to be anything more than a group of people at the mercy of being “found out” by those who would make political capital out of highlighting sector failures.

Unfortunately, many people in the profession and outside it are domin-ated by a legacy of past mistakes. Some would seek to pretend there is nothing more to be done – everything is perfect. Others try to present the financial advice and planning profession as unredeemable unless it marches to their tune and is subject to even more controls, not only by regulators, but by appointed consumer representatives.

I believe there is a great deal of merit in introducing public interest represent-ation into the standard-raising process but it is for the profession itself, after taking note of arguments by others, to raise its own standards.

The trade papers bear testimony to the suspicion directed at anyone who wants to make a difference. It is important to note that the critics are only a minority and the vast majority of advisers are supportive of a professional approach. The critics will seize on supposed negative perceptions about organisations, individuals or suggested practices to try to defeat prop-osals for change.

Another, perhaps more subtle anti-change approach, is to accept the general principle but then to raise a series of objections which virtually deadlock any attempt to move forward – in other words, to rely on inertia to preserve the status quo.

I know there are advocates of a rearguard action against the Personal Finance Society and, by implication its parent the Chartered Insurance Institute, by persuading members to refuse to pay their fees. This seems an act of desperation and to leave out of account the clear need for advisers to raise their public reputation through creating a professional body where the majority of practitioners are members and which stands for integrity, responsibility and fair treatment of customers.

Become involved with your professional body and try to change it in ways which are consistent with its high-level objectives but to refuse to have anything to do with it is to continue to allow the critics to have ownership of the debate and the reputation of advisers.

What I would like to see in the pages of our trade newspapers is a proper, balanced debate. What we seem to get is a one-sided picture dominated by diatribes and angry assertions. A bit more thought and less emotion would help us to thrash out the issues in a more constructive way.

Is there anyone out there who agrees with this? Why don’t you write a reasoned letter, for or against, but setting your comments against the background of the professional body and reputational issues I have set out above?


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