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Elephant in the room

When not immersed in personal financial planning, I am a keen amateur photographer.

One of my better efforts is a black and white shot of a rather grumpy elephant about to charge at our car in the Kruger National Park last April.

I took this photo through the windscreen of the car while hurriedly reversing away and steering with my knees and with my daughter sitting in the back. She was only 18 months old at the time and does not appear to have been too traumatised by the experience.

As I am quite proud of this angry elephant photo, I recently had it enlarged, framed and hung on the wall in my kitchen. When my little girl saw this for the first time, her remark was: “Watch out, elephant!”

I thought this was a reasonable response to the sight of a large elephant flapping its ears in our direction. As the weeks went by and she kept making the same comment each time she saw the photo, I started to realise she was not warning about the stampeding elephant, she was telling the elephant to watch out.

In the background of the photo is a white truck facing down the road towards us and the elephant. My daughter clearly has a different perspective as she looks at the photo. Rather than a concern about the elephant coming towards us, she is worried about the truck driving towards the elephant.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with retail financial services. Trust me when I tell you it is completely relevant.

From time to time, we all need to change our perspective. It is easy to become entrenched when the same old debates recur. Fees and commission, qualifications and experience, independence and tied. Nowhere have I experienced more stubbornness when it comes to regular topics of contention than among the IFA community. It seems that, as advisers, we pick a position and stick to it, regardless of what might be changing around us.

Being stubborn is not necessarily a bad thing. I will always defend the right we each have to our own opinions. Within our profession we have a wealth of experience with advisers coming at this job from many different perspectives.

However, this is not the same profession of a decade ago or even five years ago. Things have moved on. We need to accept our world is now a very different place. Regulatory change combined with commercial pressures and differing demand from consumers all drives this change. This change will not stop. If anything, the pace of change will pick up.

The recent predictions from Aviva that the IFA sector will be slashed from 21,000 to 10,000 by 2013 might not be too far from the actual outcome if we are all unable to change our perspective and see that white truck on the horizon.

Martin Bamford is joint managing director of Informed Choice

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