Harry Katz feels like a newcomer to financial services even though next year marks his 20th anniversary as an IFA but he is the first to admit that times have changed.
He had a very different life before financial services. In 1968 he set up a plastics factory in Darwen in the North-west, which he ran for 16 years before training as a financial adviser with Samuel Hill.
It was easier to quantify what you did for the week, he says, when you saw masses of plastic containers on the shelf.Weltonhurst – Katz's factory – specialised in producing plastic petrol tanks and buckets. Along the way he picked up a number of patents, including one for a system of inserting bungs into the beer overflow buckets in pubs and a method for putting copper sleeves on the connector pipes of radiator tanks on lorries.
These days, he works from a specially built office in the grounds of his home where he has an impressive redwood and a couple of cedars. “It is nice to look out and see so much green. I work at least 60 hours most weeks so I spend a lot of time in that office.
“In manufacturing, you could see the work you had done sitting on the shelf but financial services is different. Like lawyers and accountants, we are parasites who do not produce anything.”
Katz seems to have kept a healthy cynicism throughout his career as an IFA, which he says he was not immediately convinced was a job he would be suited to. “It took two years and three different people to convince me that I would find the industry appealing.” He quips that he was afraid of becoming the sort of caller that he had once had his secretary block.
Yet behind the humour, Katz is very serious about his vocation and serving of his clients and he is not afraid to speak out on industry issues, whether it be regulation, Europe or the behaviour of product providers.
Katz moved his practice down to London in 1998 after being based in the North-east since 1985. He serves clients from around the country from an office he had constructed on his residential property in Stanmore. “At first, I was worried about what my clients would think with my office at the same address as my home but it has been a great success and I am never late for work.”
One issue Katz has been vocal on of late is the recently proposed merger of professional bodies the LIA and Sofa, being a long time member of both organisations. While the great and the good of Sofa and the LIA push the merger as the best thing going, Katz ponders the question: What would be the real benefit for the members?
“Sofa is the tame pussy cat of the CII and is more interested in getting into bed with the regulator and increasing its revenue from examinations. Both bodies have positives or negatives but my suspicion is we may not get the best of each.”
Like most IFAs, depolarisation is on Katz's mind at the moment. He says he is prepared and intends to remain steadfastly independent – from networks as well as providers. “Generalisations are dangerous but I have always felt uncomfortable with the concept of the network. How can you truly be independent when you are part of one?” He is equally dismissive of multi-ties. “I can understand why people will go down that route because it is a competitive business model. But if you have always sold yourself as being an IFA, how can you suddenly turn around and convince your clients that multi-tie is now right for them?” Katz sees his sole trader, directly authorised status as vitally important to remaining independent and he is unperturbed by changes in regulation and having to handle his own compliance. “Like it or not, compliance is part of being an IFA. As a full adviser, you need to take the time to take care of it yourself. It is a copout if you don't. We think we are the only ones that have to jump through such hoops but it is not true. Every industry has compliance. In manufacturing, there was a factory inspector and for us, that is David Kenmir and the FSA.”
But this does not mean he has no criticism of the current regime. Regulation is like religion, says Katz – it is good in theory but falls down somewhat in practice. He says where the FSA has gone wrong is that it takes a “traffic warden” approach to regulation – ticking boxes rather than treating IFAs like the professionals that they are.
But he does have some sympathy for the FSA. “They have been dealt a bad hand themselves because they did not want to be looking after such a big, diverse group of businesses -it was thrust upon them by the Government of the day.
“It is nonsense that the same organisation that concerns itself with whether or not Philip Green can buy Marks & Spencer is also keeping an eye on the pension advice that I give my private clients.”
He is concerned that the spotlight thrown upon the industry is a harsher light than ever before. “If I didn't feel depressed before I read Money Marketing every week, I always do when I'm finished. This paper should come with a free stiff drink.”
But Katz is not surprised by the reports of the increase in concern from the Treasury and its select committee, which for the first time is focusing specifically on IFAs. “It was only a matter of time before they started beating on us once they felt they could not get much more out of providers.”
But Katz is pragmatic about the future. “We may dwindle in number but there will always be a need for good independent advisers and I plan to be in that market for a long time to come.”
Born: Hampstead,London, 1945
Educated: St Marylebone Grammar School, London and Northwestern Polytechnic Career: 1965: Management trainee, Sanitas Trust; 1967: PA to a plastics manufacturer managing director;1968: Founder and managing director of Weltonhurst, Darwen; 1985: Adviser, Samuel Hill; 1987: Adviser, Mainweary Francis & Associates; 1990: Founder of Norwest Consulting Career ambition: To be the last directly authorised sole trader left standing Life ambition:For my wife and I to remain healthy, fit and full of our faculties Hero: Formula 1 driver Juan-Manuel Fangio and entrepreneur Arnold Weinstock Likes: Travelling in Europe, gardening, people with wit and humour Dislikes: Political correctness
Drives: A car