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High stakes

This week saw the formal launch of the Stakes in the Ground initiative. If you have not come across the project before, let me give you a summary.

We all recognise that hindsight offers a 20:20 view of what should have happened in the world. If only we had known the stockmarket was going to do this or that, we would have altered our investment approach. If we had been made aware that a product could have that effect, we would have offered different advice. If we had known that when a regulator said this, it actually meant that, we would have been spared a few bruises.

Sometimes those involved in regulatory reviews forget they have the benefit of hindsight but trying to get a good view of history is always difficult as it relies on peoples’ memories and record keeping. Memory can be less than perfect so a better approach is needed. That approach is to commission independent research to map out today’s practice, hold it as a record of note and share it with the FSA, Financial Ombudsman Service and others, so we have transparency of practice at any point in time.

This record will be designed to show how those involved in giving advice went about it, including the approaches used, risk factors considered, methodologies used and the supporting documentation. If a complaint is made in five or 10 years time about advice given today, there is a simple and clear record of what was commonly accepted as reasonable in the climate when the advice was given.

This is not about setting regulatory standards or making all firms conform to the same approach. Indeed, recognising that firms use different approaches will be a helpful note for future regulators to refer back to. It will also help consumers better understand how the profession conducts its affairs and so give greater confidence.

The first “stake” has been selected as with-profits advice. This arena is huge, with around 400bn invested in funds. It is certainly an area for regulatory scrutiny and so having a record of practice today will be helpful tomorrow.

Initially, the project was criticised by those doom-sayers who thought that the FSA would refuse to support such an move while others laughed at thoughts that the FOS would pay any heed to the results of the work.

Those who like to stand on the sidelines and criticise rather than trying to bring about change should consider their approach. They should review what the FSA has said in support of the project read the FOS’s comments on the need for the “stakes”. Perhaps they may like to reflect on some comments from consumer groups.

In all my years in the industry, I have never known a better time for the advisory profession to come together, speak with a single voice and start to reclaim the position we should enjoy. I ask you to support the Stakes in the Ground initiative and to start to build a better profession.

Chris Cummings is director general of Aifa

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