When I started PanaceaIFA some thought we were a trade union for IFAs. Nothing could be further from the truth. We achieve a lot with a low level of resource. We recognise that if someone else does something well, work with them and do not try and re-invent the wheel. But it does put us in a position where we see a lot going on around the trade body world and where more could be done.
So, despite Aifa’s past failures and various moves to form another trade body, it may be better to look at a Mary Portas-style makeover rather than to ‘bin it’ and start again.
The problem Aifa has in the eyes of many disaffected IFAs is that it has not engaged with its membership as it should. Indeed a recent survey we ran demonstrated that IFAs no longer seem to have any confidence in the ability of Aifa to influence the FSA.
The pre-Stephen Gay leadership has ploughed an often poorly consulted furrow with little or no understanding of what the root and branch membership either wants or stands for. That is changing but I would suspect not quickly enough for many.
To set up a new trade body is not an easy task. With Aifa and Adviser Alliance already available, setting up another body solely for IFAs has no merit and it is unlikely to gain sufficient support, beyond an initial wave of euphoria, to achieve any long term credibility.
What do IFAs want a trade body to do?
Is it to act as a centralisation of views and opinions, or to see regulatory fair play for its members? Or is it to see the protection of the word Independent? If it is to protect the word Independent is that not better achieved by way of relationships with the CII in the ‘Professions’ makeover underway with the RDR process?
As restricted and independent advisers are all subject to the same regulatory constraints and controls, and to a great degree share the same ideals when it comes to looking after their clients, surely strength can found in the broad church model rather than creating a sect like trade body representation that will never get heard with any degree of seriousness.
So that brings us to the thorny question of trade body or trade union. The latter in society today does not carry the clout of pre-Thatcher years but unions still have the capacity to bring normal life to a standstill.
Professions do not make easy bedfellows with this ideal and I suspect IFAs would feel uneasy at being represented by a trade union and unwilling to get involved with mass protest.
Despite many IFAs feeling rightly aggrieved with the seemingly undefended imposition of regulatory change, I cannot see that a cry of “everybody out” will garner too much support from the industry or the public.
The sight of IFAs huddled around braziers in high streets up and down the land would not do the credibility image too much good.
So, where should we go in search for the holy grail of strong and united representation? Do financial advisers need another trade body?
No is the answer. But a lesson can be learned from the amalgams found in trade unions today. There is strength in our industry in resource and a shared ‘enemy’. Because that very financial resource is just what is needed to fuel detailed relevant research, strong lobbying, PR and a lack of fear of persecution.
And if this is the case perhaps an industry alliance should be a consideration. Would it be so terrible to have Aifa’s office, for example, within the ABI as a sub-division allowing the larger rich resources to be shared for the overall benefit of the industry to enable, as trade unions would say, the interests of the “fare paying public” to be better looked after?
After all, regulation is seen to rain down hard on those least able to defend themselves. The banks have remained relatively removed from draconian punishments because the FSA is frightened of their legal Panzers as they sweep through Canary Wharf on a mission to inhibit the prevailing effect of regulatory creep upon their world.
So a New Year suggestion to Steve and Otto at Aifa and the ABI, get a date in the diary to smell some coffee together, I am happy to pay.
Derek Bradley is the chief executive of PanaceaIFA