IFA support services are little more than commission clubs with a veneer of service.” That's the view of new support service provider IFA Prof ess ional chief executive Geoffrey Clarkson.
When Clarkson sticks the boot into his competitors, he does it with a steel-toed Hush Puppy.
The softly spoken Lancas trian maintains an even voice when describing IFA Profess ional's competition. “We are supposed to have a few competitors out there but on closer inspection they do not offer their members a proper service. They simply penalise them for their successes by insisting on a slice of the commission.”
Needless to say, IFA Prof essional – born from the marriage of Tenet Group's Adviser Connect subsidiary with Bond Pearce compliance services – ch
arges a fixed fee.
The company's brochure rams this message home -“In marked contrast to many others, we believe in enhancing your business, not penalising success, hence our commitment to a fixed fee rather than a percentage charge rela-ted to your commission income. We don't believe in taxing your success.”
Fees are payable monthly and are tailored according to the number of advisers and nature of the business.
Despite the impeccable manners, it is apparent that Clark son is relishing stirring things up. Without naming names, he says the competition has adopted very aggressive marketing practices and he str ongly disapproves. “They are trying to give the illusion of being better than they actually are. Their tactics have been wholly unsavoury.”
A solicitor by profession, Clarkson says he is there to champion the cause of the IFA – “unlike the others”. IFA Professional presently services 250 directly regulated IFA firms with over 700 registered individuals.
Explaining the rationale behind the tie-up with Tenet, he says it came off the back of increased demands from Bond Pearce's members for greater depth of services.
“We found that, being a law firm, there were limits to what we could actually do for IFAs, particularly as demand grew for more training and competence and PI support. We chose Tenet because they were starting to do what we were already doing and the fit was good.”
The combined support service provider offers compliance, research, T&C and supervision support. Clarkson believes directly regulated IFAs will be particularly keen on the supervision service as they find themselves swam ped by ever increasing regulatory requirements.
He also clearly takes pride in the preferential terms the company can now offer members. “All our clients now will benefit from access to preferential terms akin to those offered by the networks.”
Clarkson comes across as genuinely proud of the IFA services that Bond Pearce has developed and he is keen to see these built upon in the new venture.
A fter finishing his Mas ters degree in Euro pean law at Exeter University in 1975, he became a legal adviser with the London and Manchester group. By 1988, he had been appointed company secretary and director.
He joined Bond Pearce in 1995 as a senior partner and set up the nationwide regulatory support service for IFAs. During his time at Bond Pearce, Clarkson has been advising the London Stock Exchange as well as being closely involved in regulatory developments in the UK and European Union.
His involvement in the ABI working parties in the run-up to the FSA puts him in an interesting position. He does not just reserve his vitriol for the competition, the regulator comes in for a hard time too. “The FSA doesn't seem in the least concerned about the availability of advice. The regulator has caused lots of people not to have financial advice at all by scaring them off with the way that the pension rev iew was handled.
Clarkson says he worked in the City of London in the days when all the best investment houses were British owned and he was appalled to see them fall into other hands.
“We have to protect our key industries. We need to have leadership. That is particularly true for a fragmented industry like financial advice. What I want to do is give IFAs a more influential role in changes to the industry. Up until now they have just had to sit back and watch it happen.”
In keeping with his quietly forthright nature, Clarkson gets straight to the point on the subject of polarisation. “It is dangerous to blur the distinction between independent and tied advice. The public had just started to come to recognise the distinction bet ween the two types of adv ice. I was surprised and disappointed at the change.”
He is refusing to take things lying down though. “If the direct salesforces become more powerful as a result of these latest changes, we will help IFAs to respond by giving them pooled punching power.”