I read with interest the back-page article about the FSA quizzing IFAs about their networks, not least as I was one of the IFAs thus quizzed.
First, I received a call from our network to tell me that the FSA had selected me to take part, what the purpose and format of the interview would be and would this be OK?
I was somewhat surprised that the FSA had so little idea of what networks do that they felt it necessary to spend time (and time is money, remember) interviewing a cross-section of network members but I saw no harm in the exercise so I said OK, wondering vaguely what might have happened if I had said no.
The following week, a lady from the FSA called to tell me all over again about the purpose of the interview, which she estimated would take half an hour, and to book a time for it.
Given that our network had already told me the purpose of the interview, it seemed a bit superfluous for the lady from the FSA to take half as long as the interview was going to take to tell me all over again, but never mind. Idly curious, I asked on what basis the FSA had pulled my name out of the hat. “Ah”, she said, “it was felt you might have some interesting opinions to offer.” Right.
Anyway, the interview was quite undaunting and I was pleased to be able to state that in virtually all areas we are pretty satisfied with Interdependence, having been with them since the beginning of 1995. They treat us as adults and as their customers. They do not attempt to steer or manipulate our business decisions or product selection procedures, insisting only that whatever recommendations we make to our clients are supported by thorough comparative research which is held on file for future reference if and as required.
The files on a cross-section of our business every month are called in for examination by the business assessment team, which helps us maintain very high standards of compliance on every item of business we transact.
We have none of the professional indemnity insurance headaches being experienced by so many directly regulated small firms, we make full and regular use of the technical services department and a specialist pension transfer analysis team is on hand, providing a comprehensive service(for which they take full responsibility) at a very nominal cost per case. We receive regular product analyses, which are particularly valuable in the ever changing world of structured products, and the very few complaints we receive (all of which have been rejected) are handled for us by another specialist division. That, in itself, saves us both time and headaches.
Our network also organises regular training days with guest speakers (and a nice lunch), as well as better rates of commission from most of the life companies than we would ever be able to negotiate as a small directly regulated firm.
This goes quite some way to eclipsing the costs of network membership. Oh yes, the members' extranet site is also very useful and is under constant refinement and review.
The training and competence scheme is an irksome and, in my view, completely unnecessary piece of bureaucracy, not least because we have to pay hefty monthly charges for it.
But then training and competence was not part of the equation when we originally signed up, just another burdensome scheme dreamed up by a bunch of people at the PIA with nothing better to do to justify their salaries.
So, for what my opinion may be worth, I, for one, consider our network to be a valuable service resource that not only protects our business but keeps us on our toes as far as the standards of service we provide our clients are concerned.