The imminent arrival of multi-tied advice into the consumer marketplace should send out a resounding signal to the thousands of IFAs who prize their independence and intend to stay that way – there has never been a more crucial time to promote your unique offering.
Currently, we have two clear types of financial adviser while after D-Day there will be a whole range of differing offerings, no doubt adding hugely to consumer confusion when they are looking for and taking financial advice.
What is more, multi-tied advice will be determined to make an impressive entrance, and will call on the substantial marketing budgets of some weighty financial players to back a big splash.
In contrast, the vast majority of IFAs will not be in such a fortunate position to have bucketloads of spare cash sloshing around their coffers to spend on marketing themselves. IFA Promotion's comparably limited budget of £2.7m will continue to punch well above its weight in terms of positive media profile for independent financial advice, and generating 400,000 high-quality new business enquiries for members this year alone but IFA businesses will need to do more themselves to battle against the multi-tied marketing.
So should IFAs feel disheartened or fearful of the forthcoming changes? The simple answer is no, because IFAs have the mother of all marketing tools freely at their disposal – their independence.
Independent research commissioned by ourselves and other organisations has repeatedly confirmed that consumers, when they clearly understand the choices available, want independent advice across the whole of the product and provider marketplace, and value it far higher than restricted choice.
Therefore, rather than feeling intimidated by the competition's marketing clout after depolarisation, IFAs should view this transition period as the biggest opportunity they have had in years to highlight their core strength, setting out their offering clearly and proudly as the gold standard of advice which any consumer should aspire to.
In the post-depolarisation landscape, the message that IFAs will be able to offer is the unique service of being able to access to the whole market of financial products as the consumer's agent has to be conveyed to customers and pot- ential customers alike. Equally, you must make your target group aware that multitied advisers are using a limited number of providers which have been selected by a commercial arrangement. IFAs must also trumpet their credentials as holistic financial planners rather than mere product pushers.
There are many ways that IFAs can make the most of the independent brand. First, they should make use of the mat-erial that is already available.
We at IFAP have invested considerable time and resources over the past 15 years on establishing a brand that is clearly registered in the psyche – the blue roundel. Our research shows that more than half of all up-market adults recognise the blue pound sign logo as the brand of the independent financial adviser.
IFAs need to ask themselves whether they are making the most of this logo. They should carry out an audit to see where and where not the logo is being used.
The logo should be on display on windows, on letterheads and on business cards. IFAP members can get the merchandise such as stickers at cost price and the price will not dent the bank too much. For instance, posters cost £3 and consumer guides cost£25 for a batch of 50.
In today's technological world, it is important to have the logo on your website. The majority of people searching for an IFA do so online. It cannot be stressed enough that IFAs cannot afford to assume that people know they are independent – they must take steps to ensure that clients are left in no doubt about their status. This will be even more crucial after D-Day when competition from the multi-tied arms will be rife. The blue roundel on display on a homepage will give IFAs a very good chance of being recognised instantly.
Many IFAs have signed up to IFAP Media Services to promote the IFA brand. Well-established names such as Mark Dampier, Anna Bowes, Ray Boulger or Philippa Gee are almost certainly familiar to most of you.
These and a whole army of budding financial pundits, appear daily across our TV screens, airwaves and in national and regional press, explaining the merits of independent advice.
IFAP also runs more than 30 regional Press Clubs, groups of IFA firms working with their local newspapers to supply regular personal finance content for their readers. Both media services and press clubs are free opportunities open to all of our member IFA firms, your chance to help explain the independent proposition to consumers and businesses, and to generate free but valuable media profile for your company into the bargain.
The independent tag can never be overplayed. Remind clients when you meet them face to face of the added value that independent advice can give. The menu system will demonstrate that, whichever way you pay for it, financial advice is not free. This is good news for IFAs because it will help customers understand the value of the advice they are given, and compare it to cost of limited multi-tied advice.
Don't wait until D-Day. IFAs who are determined to preserve their independence need to start selling it now.