I have been having some weird dreams. Some of them involve a much younger me taking part in activities that are clearly linked to events from many years ago, like clubbing to acid house music or Ipswich Town winning the FA Cup.
What worries me is that, increasingly, I can’t quite make out whether I am wide awake or still dreaming.
Last week, for example, there was a news item to the effect that Lloyds Banking Group is to sell its 218-strong Halifax estate agency chain for £1. Lloyds said a strategic review had “concluded that an estate agency operation is no longer integral to its business model”.
Bizarrely, 15 years ago, Nationwide Building Society sold its 300-strong chain of agents to Hambro Countrywide for £1. Nationwide chief executive Brian Davis said back then: “We will now be able to concentrate more effectively on our core financial services business.”
Spooky or what? Still, at least Lloyds Banking Group managed to get about 45 per cent more for its chain, on a branch-by-branch basis, than Nationwide, although presumably inflation swallows most of those “gains” up.
In another recent dream, I was sitting opposite Godfrey Jillings, chief executive of the old IFA regulator Fimbra, as he and his PR spokesman John “Tory Boy” Pinnegar explained to me why I needed to pass my Financial Advisers’ Competence Test.
From memory, Fact was introduced at the beginning of 1993 and was the first tentative step taken by Fimbra to improve the training and competence of IFAs – although why, in my dream, I needed to take that exam is unclear.
At the time, Jillings told us the initial standard of Fact was much lower than he considered necessary – not surprising really, given that this exam was so excruciatingly basic it did not even count, on its own, as academically equivalent to the now-discredited Financial Planning Certificate.
Fimbra linked its exams to a continuing professional education scheme, whereby each RI was required to devise a personal programme involving at least 50 hours of study a year. This self-certified CPE scheme included reading trade newspapers such as Money Marketing.
While not exactly an onerous requirement, many IFAs were vocal in their objections. I recall writing articles in Money Marketing on the subject. A steady procession of IFAs came forward, all opposed the need for professional qualifications, especially as they were by now in the 50s and could not spare the time to study and pass exams. Surely, the fact they all had scores of happy clients meant they should be spared from this new obligation?
So it was with a strange feeling of dreaming with my eyes open that I read a letter in Money Marketing last week from 56-year-old Jeremy Newbegin, a director of The Ethical Partnership in Southampton, who lamented: “When am I supposed to find the time to study? I am not an 18-year-old in a part-time job with plenty of time on my hands. I have been in the industry since 1979. I have been a director of this company since 2001 and I look after over 300 clients. In addition, I have normal director responsibilities, I am the compliance overseer for the company, in charge of our TCF policy and manage our administrator.
“To throw a wall in front of people so close to retirement is an injustice. I deserve to be treated better and with more respect,” an argument somewhat devalued by the fact that, as he confessed, the collapse in value of his pension fund means he will be working until he is 70, or 14 years from now.
An even stranger sense of – Déjà-vu or was I dreaming again? – came last week in another item in Money Marketing, this time by my old sparring partner Alan Lakey.
He announced the birth of a new body, the Adviser Alliance, which promises to fight on behalf of IFAs, “with an aim of bringing about regulatory change and a more balanced advisory world”.
Clearly, the continuous frothings of Alan’s former stablemate Evan Owen are not deemed suitable in the new age we find ourselves in, hence the need for a lobbying organisation that sits, on a “rant scale”, somewhere between the IFA Defence Union and Aifa.
Or, as one IFA gleefully referred to it last week in a reference to the 1990s’ IFA trade body once led by the redoubtable Garry Heath, we are seeing the formation of “Nfifa Lite”.
Will the new Adviser Alliance succeed in building a bloc of militant IFAs willing to join battle against overbearing regulation? I don’t know but what is interesting is the battleground it is already staking out. In his first article as a putative leader of “Nfifa Lite”, Alan has identified a vital issue to discuss and, indirectly, to defend – IFA commission.
How very 1990s. Zzzzzzz…
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org