Many financial advisers believe a solid FCA register is one of the keys to tackling the advice gap and rogue actors responsible for phoenix firms.
Some MPs on the work and pensions select committee agree, describing the register as a “potentially valuable resource but currently very confusing” in a February report on the British Steel Pension Scheme.
To improve the register, the committee recommended that the FCA should name and shame firms and individuals suspended from providing pensions advice.
MPs also said the regulator should take immediate action to make such suspensions clear at the top of register entries, as well as search results, and publish broader plans to redesign the register to make it more user-friendly.
These recommendations appear to have been taken on board, as the FCA reversed course on its original plans in the Senior Managers and Certification Regime to only list the individuals in senior positions it approved directly on the register, and not people in more junior roles those managers would have responsibility for.
Last month, the FCA added a function to the register where consumers can search for the closest financial adviser to them by entering a postcode.
Unauthorised firms are flagged in red with an accompanying note saying: “We strongly suggest you avoid dealing with this firm.”
Details of unauthorised and authorised firms posted include direct email and telephone contact information, as well as firm reference numbers and addresses.
Information relating to appointed representatives and introducers is also listed, and users are able to see details on any parent companies of firms. The FCA defines introducers in a statement where it says: “This is a firm that can introduce customers to another firm or members of the firm’s group, and/or give out certain kinds of marketing material.”
Advisers have had mixed reactions to the development, with some arguing more consumers need to know about the register in the first place for the changes to be effective, and others feeling more positive that it will help people find the right adviser.
Work to be done
Plutus Wealth Management chartered financial planner Ruban Sanmuganathan says he likes the idea the regulator is helping consumers to find suitable advisers, but argues it could go further.
He says the register should indicate whether an adviser is independent or restricted and their level of qualifications.
If a firm is classed as restricted, Sanmuganathan says that more information on exactly how it is restricted should be provided, as the status is unclear at times. He adds that details about a firm’s particular expertise, such as whether it is a pension specialist, and information about the ownership structures of vertically integrated businesses are also desirable.
Lastly, Sanmuganathan points out it could be of value to allow each adviser firm to put some free format text about themselves on the register.
Nonetheless, he recognises that this may get some resistance from the regulator as it goes against the ideology of the register being objective.
Yardstick Agency founder Phil Bray says it is good consumers can now search their postcode to find advisers, but adds some of them have started to complain on a Facebook group that the information about their firms is inaccurate.
He asks how the FCA can be trusted to include other more complicated pieces of information such as whether an adviser is restricted or independent if it gets some basic facts wrong.
Mowatt Financial Planning director William Mowatt says the FCA’s register is a move in the right direction as there are flaws in the way other registers operate and this is an attempt to level the playing field.
He cites Unbiased, arguing that because advisers fund the service, it might not be as consumer-friendly as it should be.
Mowatt adds there is a need for consumers to be more educated about how to use adviser registers generally so that they can benefit from them.
He also thinks consumers need to be more educated about charges but registers are not the best place to convey information about them.
There is a school of thought that says the industry has to step back and realise the average member of the public does not know there is a register in the first place.
It is noteworthy the work and pensions select committee’s report into British Steel did not focus on the public’s general awareness of the register, but rather the shortcomings of it.
Nexus Independent Financial Advisers managing director Kerry Nelson says the FCA register is not well known among consumers and there needs to be a campaign to raise awareness for any changes to be effective.
She argues the recently launched pension scams campaign by the FCA and The Pensions Regulator could include a mention of it.
She adds: “An ideal register, according to me, is simple, uncomplicated and clear, which means it shows who is authorised, by whom, and what they are authorised to provide advice about.
“Generally, we are not very good at talking about the positive things in the industry and we could do more of this, as whatever changes are made to the register with the intention to help consumers are good.”
Nucleus product technical manager Rachel Vahey also thinks boosting awareness is critical.
She says: “The role of the FCA and government in the context of the pension freedoms is to say people who have advice clearly make better decisions.
“The UK needs to get this message across to people and the new Single Financial Guidance Body could promote such a message and reference the FCA register as part of the effort.”