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IFA claque attack

My old man, bless his soul, was an opera enthusiast. Whenever he saw a production he really enjoyed, he would get up at the end and applaud thunderously, repeatedly shouting out “Bravo!” and “Encore!” at the top of his voice.

Trouble was, he could sometimes be a bit too loud. One evening I was with him, an annoyed and slightly snotty member of the audience, no doubt deafened by my dad’s hearty cheering, turned to him and said, to my embarrassment: “My dear chap, I thought claques went out of fashion in the 19th century.”

Claques were professional cheerleaders hired to applaud dramatic performances, date back to Roman times. By the 19th century, they were so well organised they sometimes had to be paid not to boo a production instead, a form of extortion which happily went out of fashion thanks to the development of modern concert etiquette.

Unfortunately, the development of claques has become increasingly prevalent on the internet. What we are starting to see is commentators who, purely by virtue of the fact that they can append a comment to someone else’s work, believe their opinions are not only as worthy as the column they are responding to, which may indeed be true, but that in the absence of any countervailing view, their view is the only one that counts.

A classic example of how a claque at work can be seen in the comments that followed both my own column on the issue of the RDR and Stephen Gay’s first interview as Aifa director general in Money Marketing last week.

In my case, a group which had previously had nothing constructive to say about my opinions on the RDR somehow changed their minds, despite the fact that I was advancing a similar line of reasoning to one that had previously been slagged off by them.

Like a flock of starlings on crack cocaine, they mindlessly follow each other hither and thither, taking a lead from one another without regard for any of the underlying arguments. Praise from them, such as I earned last week, is truly worthless.

An equally interesting example greeted Stephen Gay’s announcement in Money Marketing to the effect that he proposes to carry out a fundamental review of Aifa’s structure, to ensure it is “fit for purpose”, to use the over-worked phrase.

The review is expected to take three months and will look at issues such as funding, membership and the future direction of Aifa.

Within hours of the story appearing, it became clear that his comments were not being greeted with admiration by the online claque that has now created itself round Money Marketing. At least a dozen familiar faces popped up within hours, almost all of them making hostile comments both about Stephen Gay and about Aifa, which they accuse of no longer representing IFAs like themselves.

Despite having had months since his appointment was announced in September to consider what he was going to say when he finally took office, Gay’s comments are anodyne. He does not make explicit what aspects of the RDR he is in favour of or what he opposes, whether there are any other aspects of Aifa’s policies that should be retained, amended or junked.

He talks about achieving consensus, about there being “every reason to think that this is a proper and appropriate moment to consider what the role and the future and the vision of this organisation should be”.

No doubt, Gay is aware of the fact that, as a perceived “outsider”, his tenure at Aifa is likely to be brief unless he manages to impose and consolidate his own authority within the organisation. He would not be the first to feel that way.

But to come into a representative body without giving members a clue as to your intentions and expecting them to take it on trust that something positive will come up in three months time, maybe a lot longer, sounds less an interesting strategy and more a death wish.

Last week, I spoke to an IFA I trust, a long standing and loyal member of Aifa. He told me that over the past two years there has been mounting concern within certain parts of the organisation at criticisms of the way it operates.

According to my source, there is mounting paranoia about the way a vocal minority constantly snipe at the trade body, most from outside but also internally. “Our message is just not getting through. We are not drowning out the critics,” I was told.

Ironically, if your stated aim is to reach consensus above all costs, to refuse to say anything that you believe might alienate a minority within your constituency, you effectively cede the ground to them.

In the absence of a powerful argument from you as to the way forward, the claque is able to gather more disillusioned critics together to challenge everything you do – and supposedly don’t do.

Stephen Gay may think he has several months to feel his way into Aifa and build the alliances he needs to take the organisation forward in the coming years. I’m not so sure. At the very least, if he thinks the RDR cannot be derailed, he needs to explain clearly why – and ignore the hostile claque waiting in the wings.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at


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There are 26 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Belch.



  2. Great article Nick.

  3. “Our message is just not getting through”
    What message is that?

  4. You are always correct Nic, they need not listen to them, oh unless they want their cash.

    Not one group of advisers in the country managed to persuade their MP to offer an alternative answer in the RDR debate for the RDR. Yet if you look back through your own paper articles and other trade papers it was those pro RDR advisers who were unhappy with a Mark Garnier comment and tried to rally a group lobbying of their own MPs not the anti RDR advisers.

    So you have your fingers right on the pulse Nic.

    I listened to AIFA, got sick of them and left.

    I will consider the other options.

  5. That’s the most sensible contribution I’ve seen from you Julian. But for anyone who’s missing the usual, here you go…

    ‘Whinge whinge failing their statutory objectives whine whine no accountability bleat bleat pick on small IFA’s sob sob WHAT ABOUT THE BANKS? THE BANKS! THE BANKS!! THE BANKS!!! WHAT ABOUT THE BANKS??!!

  6. Anonymous | 17 Dec 2010 10:57 am

    That’s the most sensible contribution I’ve seen from you Julian. But for anyone who’s missing the usual, here you go…

    ‘Whinge whinge failing their statutory objectives whine whine no accountability bleat bleat pick on small IFA’s sob sob WHAT ABOUT THE BANKS? THE BANKS! THE BANKS!! THE BANKS!!! WHAT ABOUT THE BANKS??!!


    I actually came on to praise Nic on another well-written article which sums up perfectly Money Marketing’s many RDR naysayers. This comment, however, is so bang on the money that I just about spat a mouthful of tea all over my computer screen in a fit of laughter!

  7. Hi Nic
    As usual, you are talking from a position of not being in the real world. I doubt RDR will have any bearing on you.What qualifications have you had to sit, do you know about TCF….etc. After RDR you will be able to talk on your chat shows and condemn what IFAs are left.

    However, you are correct about AIFA. Chris Cummings used his position to get a better job and to hobnob with those and such as those. AIFA is on borrowed time as is AMI who have done nothing but allow banks to walk all over IFAs.

  8. It is well know that blogging tends to allow people to speak their mind in an anonomous type of fashion, hence the vitriol that is often sent out.

    However, I disagree with you that it is ‘clacking’, it is just that the IFA community as fragmented as it is, is sick of the righteous few speaking for the majority.

    The voice of our industry is too often the few big players or the distributors of products and not the small one man/two man IFA out in the boonies trying to do the job against a tide of regulation a lot of which is killing our industry.

    As I have said previously if both MPs and journalists spend a little more time in the office of an advisor having to deal with what we deal with then maybe they would be a little more sympathetic to our cause.

    As an older IFA I accept that I must do exams, I accept that I must do CPD to keep up, but I don’t need it all shoving down my throat.

    I also accept that we will not win one argument as we are so fragmented, fail to speak with one voice and quite frankly no one but our own clients care! Furthermore that is all we care about is our clients.

  9. “an annoyed and slightly snotty member of the audience”

    Sums up your role quite well Nick.

    Anyway – Happy Christmas and thanks for providing so much fun and entertainment over the years.

  10. Nic
    Reading these blogs and your cloumn is strangly addictive in a perverse sort of way.

    I really should get a life.

    Memo New Year resolutiuon enjoy life. Enjoy Russia getting the WC 2018 the Aussies winning back the Ashes getting more than1pt at eurovision 2011 enjoy the Scots winning Wimbledon 2011.

  11. Vladimir Cicutti the one journalist that didn’t ge 17th December 2010 at 1:59 pm

    So Nic you think Stephen Gay & AIFA should ignore RDR-hostile IFAs?

    Nic it may be news to you but this is what AIFA has been doing all along! Just like you AIFA has ignored RDR hostile views. For that matter so have you!

    In fact your journalism has been consistent in its ability to miss the real issues of the day i.e. the unaccountable powers of an unelected quasi judicial and discredited quango. So much for investigative journalism. If you operated in Russia you’d be the one journalist that didn’t get shot!

  12. @Graham Grant | 17 Dec 2010 1:54 pm

    Yes Graham I would tend to agree. Reading Nics stuff is equivelent to self flagellation. In fact if ever I need to know what my views should be on a subject I find Nics writings most beneficial!!!.

  13. Unfortunately for those pro RDR posting on here, perhaps if you actually looked at the moderate sensible TSC questions directed at the FSA and ridicules comments coming from directors at the FSA, you will find RDR just does not stack up.
    I presume anony-mouse is too frightened to squeak up with his / her real name!
    Nick your lack of understanding of the real world amazes me.
    Having challenged senior members of the FSA since 1998 and PIA beforehand, it has been obvious that the IFA was they are out to destroy the IFA, I was Introduced to Michael Foot in 1997 the day befor he became a director of the FSA who when he was told I was a UK IFA, remarked [one of the dying bread] after 37 years of service to my clients and having been a founder member of NASDIM, I believe in sound regulation. I do not believe in someone telling me how to run my business and what I can and cannot do. We do not live in a communist world do we?
    RDR will not happen; Europe will see to that (see headlines today) look at the latest from MIFID .

  14. Funny that some journalists don’t consider that they may be the claquers.

  15. Forget the downside to IFAs whose clients are not readily transferred on to the NMA system

    Forget the insider dealing of educational bodies making money from yet another round of exams which they have encouraged

    Forget the regulator’s policy departments who gain their excessive salaries by creating unwanted policies and the consultants that are paid fortunes to help them.

    Forget the banks who misadvise as part of their business practice and who are the employers of last resort to FSA staff.

    There is only one voice that demands a hearing and that is ignored by all the above

    The £7m IFA clients who will be disenfranchised by the RDR.

    Who speaks for them?

    Not AIFA – so Nic £7m need their existing IFAs to speak for them which as the clients’ agents is their proper role

    Call them claques if you like but unless they speak most of the clients in the UK will be forced to go to the State or banks owned by the state – either way they will be ripped off

    When the Berlin Wall fell I thought Freedom had one.

    By stealth Fabian Socialists in the UK and In the US have created a new Clause 4

    Just what you wanted Nic


  16. The problem for many IFA firms is that criticizing the FSA in public forum is commercial suicide. Many IFAs are even concerned about submitting evidence to the treasury committee for fear of disclosure to the FSA and we live in a democratic and free society and you Nic do and say nothing!

    IFAs take a big risk because with the freedom of info.request the FSA can find them. The FSA lack of accountability and appeals together with their 10,000 page rule book means no one is safe, and Nic you do and say nothing about this!

    The FSA powers are really undemocratic and therefore worrying – and yes Nic you do and say nothing!

    An FSA visit that ends in being given a S166 report is pretty catastrophic– costing hundreds of thousands even for small firms. Any FSA meeting is very stressful indeed and it usually ends in enforcement fines if the FSA wants to punish.

    Keep up the good work Nic because it is meaningless and an affront to the profession you claim to be a member of. There is a very real fight going on and one day you may notice The Leviathan At Large and realise that our country is no longer free.

    Perhaps that day will come only when the press is no longer free and unable to say what you already fail to say!

  17. Can’t really see the point of this article except to stir up the Nic Cicutti claque and the pro and anti RDR claque.

    Solution to RDR have been suggested and I have certainly made numerous suggestions over the years.

  18. @ Anonymous | 17 Dec 2010 11:48 am

    Love it!, fabby!

    Anyway, we need to enjoy the utterances of the ‘I’m been doings this 30 years and any attempt to regulate me is an affront to the common law of England’ brigade, as they have a very limited tenture….the clock is ticking.

    Speaking of which, I did one of the R exams last week and it was interesting that out of 20 people in the room, 18 were from Bankassurers and only 2 from IFA backgrounds. Everyone was under 40 too. Speaks volumes!

  19. When we are in a consultation period it is only to be expected IFA’s raise concerns and suggest amendments to that proposed.
    You do not make clear what criticisms you consider unjustified or deserve to be likened to flighty cocaine users. It is difficult not to take objections to change when the flavour of the FSA’s proposals initially seem bias and unwarranted. A resistance to change is a normal human reaction anyway.
    IFA’s have been made to feel incompetent in some cases, criminal in others with no personal wrong doing.
    This forum acts like a sounding board and the same IFA’s who post messages obviously read others counter arguments.
    I again think your article may have some merit though typically antagonistic, which is strange as this seems to be what you are criticising. It is more recently that common sense is beginning to prevail and this is in part to the noise created by so called claques.
    I enjoyed your history lesson Nic but I for one am in no hurry to become part of it.

  20. 21st Century Schizoid Man?

    Nic starts the piece by accusing a paid claque of being anti RDR. Not sure who he thinks is funding these people.

    In the middle of the piece he attacks Mr. Gay for being “anodyne” and then finishes bemoaning free speech.

    Very perplexing.

  21. The French still use the word “clacqueur” to mean a sycophant.

    May I suggest that you are hoist on your own petard.

    You remind me of a “tricoteuse”, a modern day Madame Dafarge.

  22. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. To sneer at a view that contradicts your own highlights your arrogance. The comment made that a recent exam had 18 advisers from banks and two IFAs and they were all under forty I would suggest explains that the old age group are out there doing their job – advising their clients.

    I think it is a shame that so many IFAs are frightened by the FSA. Of what are they afraid? If you are doing a good job …..

  23. I do have some sympathy for Mr Gay, as he obviously had no idea what he was walking into when he agreed to take over the post of AIFA’s Director-General.

    He has obviously identified some very serious problems, which I believe were the fault of the previous encumbent. The first lesson, he needs to learn however, is that those who sit on the fence, tend to get shot by both sides.

    I wish him well, but personally I think it’s too late, and that AIFA has now become a dead man walking.

  24. Paul Nash | 19 Dec 2010 5:00 pm

    …and those who sit on the fence and shuffle get splinters in their ..(another name for Nic)!

  25. Having read your piece again Nic, it strikes me that you are becoming something of a one trick pony.

    You start off by bemoaning the fact that all IFAs despise you. You then attempt to dredge up some journalistic credence by a historical or literary reference. Finally you spin off at a tangent which bears no resemblance to the space you originally wished to occupy.

    I wouldn’t pay you in washers.

  26. Christopher Bearfoot 20th December 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Just a short comment on the substance of the article, namely:

    “…Despite having had months since his appointment was announced in September to consider what he was going to say when he finally took office, Gay’s comments are anodyne. He does not make explicit what aspects of the RDR he is in favour of or what he opposes, whether there are any other aspects of Aifa’s policies that should be retained, amended or junked….”

    This is totally accurate and it was a statement that could have been made when his appointment was announced. It begs the question whether AIFA knows what direction it should be taking. My own view is that is effectively rudderless at the moment and since it has also joined the ever-increasing ranks of those trying to make a quick buck by selling exams, I decided not to renew my membership from the end of this year.

    I’ll keep a close eye out and see if anything changes & might then reconsider whether it deserves supporting in future.

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