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Future tense

Presented with the prospect of a few weeks away from these pages, I find myself contemplating the future even more than one might expect of someone who, at least in theory, is supposed to concern himself with investment.

Mind you, for once, I have a proper excuse for procrastinating on my seminal and no doubt future award-winning column on the reality of financial advice in this country. It will, eventually, be along the lines of whether the Government – via the FSA, and despite the potential ramifications of the RDR – is serious about increasing access to independent advice.

Or has it simply come to terms, more quickly and easily than everybody in Her Majesty’s financial services industry, with the uncomfortable possibility that independent advice is only ever going to be a realistic option for a depressingly small percentage of the Great British Public?

Yup, despite the absence of an investment angle, I reckon that is definitely one for another day. Still, of course, I am not the only one thinking hard about the future, what with the Sword of Damocles – well, technically but less splendidly, the Sword of George – now hanging over the head of the FSA.

One could almost feel a bit sorry for the watchdog – and not just because the Osborne blueprint for the future of financial regulation does not appear to have been quite as fully finessed in every possible area as it might have been. To his credit, Lord Turner reacted with a degree of stoicism that seems to be missing from much of the UK in these swine-flu-ridden times.

“Uncertainty is unsettling – but it is a fact of democratic life,” he said, in what I like to hope was his most Church-illian tone. “Faced with that uncertainty, the FSA’s task is simple – to concentrate on ensuring that we have the regulations, the supervisory processes, the people and the skills required to deliver a more stable financial system in future. These things will be required whatever the division of responsibility between different institutions results from whatever the electorate decides.”

And just as the FSA finally seemed to be getting the hang of the job too – although perhaps one cannot feel too much sympathy for anyone who takes a decade in managing that. Or indeed, since we are quoting Canary Wharf talking heads, for anyone who, in the same week the High Court got to hear the latest chapter in the Equitable Life saga, could come up with the following quote with no apparent sense of irony.

“It is essential that with-profits policyholders are treated fairly,” said Dan Waters, the FSA’s director of retail policy and conduct risk on the wholly separate matter of how proprietary life insurance companies can meet future compensation and redress payments. “The changes we are confirming today are an important development in this regard, which seek to ensure that policyholders do not pay for costs resulting from management failings.”

Surely we would miss such pronouncements – although presumably, even if the Shadow Chancellor gets his way, there would still be, as Lord Turner said, the people and skills around to come up with this level of comedy gold.

Oops, only 150 words to go and still no investment theme – but, don’t panic, here is one I was planning for a week or two’s time. For some reason, it seems to have passed most investment journalists by but were you aware that August 14 has for some years been pencilled in for the mother of all stockmarket crashes?

You see, that is when Saturn will be within the orb of opposing Uranus. Also, if that were not enough, we will have the Sun opposing Jupiter and Neptune, a lunar node in Aquarius and Mars squaring Uranus – and I don’t think I have to tell you what all that means.

Now, I do not really hold with this astrology nonsense – I mean, after all, I am a Virgo – and, of course, it could be that this prediction, which was originally made in July 1996, was really foreshad-owing the credit crunch and therefore simply a year or so out. Nevertheless, I felt it was something of which you should at least be aware. See you in a few weeks time – touch wood.

Julian Marr is editorial director of marketing-hub.co.uk

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