Twice during the past week I have been admonished for being beastly to the FSA. “Hey, they are okay, decent fellows, only doing their jobs,” etc. I have been told.
All of this may be true and indeed, if my comments related to any particular individual, they might well be out of order and the cause of much offence. However, the FSA is a leviathan, a monstrous ever-growing quango that feeds off the industry as relentlessly as any freshwater leech. Somebody once accused the FSA of being parasitic but this is foolish and patently untrue. Parasites never kill their host.
Indeed, it would be a pleasure to regularly congratulate the FSA within these commentaries and to be fair it has achieved a number of successes. The prohibition of single-premium payment protection insurance plans was commendable, as was the banning of fraudulent mortgage brokers and the £7m fine imposed on Alliance & Leicester for blatant PPI misselling. Regrettably, there are many more entries in the debit column and no adviser or member of the public should shrink back from speaking out when injustices are being perpetrated.
I remember the horror days when Colette Bowe was running amok and creating fear within the adviser sector, yet never can I recall a time when any financial services regulator has attracted such loathing as the current incarnation. Its unwillingness to constructively engage with advisers is inexcusable and ultimately self-defeating.
Not long ago advisers were being regulated on a principles basis. This enabled the FSA to look beyond the wordings of their rules in determining whether adviser behaviour was fair. Contrast this with the recent imposition of an interim Financial Services Compensation Scheme levy to fund potential losses due to the collapse of Keydata. Had this matter been dealt with on a principles-based level the considerable cost would not be falling on advisers. Regardless of the regulatory band that Keydata had been consigned to, advisers and commentators believed that they were a provider – something the FSA was fully aware of. Treating customers fairly would resonate with a friendlier chime if the FSA treated advisers in an equally fair manner and resolved this.
As regular readers will know, Adviser Alliance is now up and running and the website provides regular updates and information. As yet, we remain a fledgling organisation and limited in our ability to make a difference. With greater numbers of members and a deeper treasure chest, we will be able to demonstrate how an organisation run by practicing advisers can create an impact.
Our focus must be on the retail distribution review and the lack of a long stop. It has been widely documented that advisers are far too disparate a bunch to ever congregate under one banner – it is both a strength and a weakness – but there are times when actions speak louder than words. Equally, we realise that the efforts of bodies such as Aifa and the IFA Defence Union have also paid dividends and it is time that we all recognised that our ambitions are quite similar.
So, have I been too beastly or have I told it like it is? Perhaps I should be more tolerant but at least I seek some vestige of balance, unlike one wag who recently announced: “If stupid was a sport, the FSA would have a room full of trophies.”
Alan Lakey is director of Adviser Alliance and partner at Highclere Financial Services