It has been a good year for our firm, even taking into account red tape and general regulation. Seriously, it has. Most IFAs I speak to say the same, particularly in the last six months.
We have kept a close eye on staff costs and overall expenditure and that, coupled with client loyalty and a great team of staff, has resulted in a very satisfactory end to the calendar year. By natural changes in staff, we have improved the overall quality of the team with reduced costs and renewed enthusiasm.
But what about the year ahead? IFAs would be more than their usual optimistic selves if they failed to be concerned about the increasing demands of regulation and the interference from Brussels.
In my opinion, until they can balance their own books, it is a bit rich trying to meddle with the UK financial services industry which on the whole works pretty well.
Like most IFAs, I continue to have concerns about the banking fraternity and financial services. I still hear cases of clients subjected to immense pressure and a limited range of products and advice. Yet thousands still go to banks for advice, even though, with most, levels of service are at an all-time low.
I rang one bank recently to ask for their sort code. I can almost see the branch offices from my window and the exercise would have done me good. However, eventually (“your call is important to us and you are 4,732 in the queue”) I was transferred to their overseas call centre.
However polite the receptionist, I had to explain where Wells was and spell Somerset several times although I did eventually get the information that I was seeking.
We provide a human-being to answer the telephone and God forbid we ever have a button choice of options for various departments. We are not dinosaurs by any means and embrace technology in all respects but I know that clients value their calls being answered by a person.
I suppose we might save money in the short term with a button system but I feel that this would antagonise clients.
What is encouraging is that we have seen a real growth in the number of clients coming to us who have been dissatisfied with their banks, largely because of charging and poor service. Long may that continue and we will be ready to assist them. If we continue to provide real service, then we have a great future.
We need to make use of PR firms and steadily but surely build upon our reputations. Service, competitive charging, personal care, added value, independence, genuine interest in our clients are all such common sense but so often lacking.
We have seen huge interest recently in clients concerned about the charging and structure of their pension funds new-style flexible pensions and this, together with a positive market, has provided a useful opportunity to add real value for our clients, with competitive terms.
Aifa director general Paul Smee is right when he says there are more PI providers in the marketplace but it does seem to me that it has made little difference to most IFAs. If the advice given is well documented, we should have nothing to worry about but we live in an increasingly litigious age.
One client wrote recently with dissatisfaction after his five-year FTSE-linked plan had produced no more than a total return of his original investment. “Of course I know that it was not guaranteed but I had a golden expectation”. I do too with our family £1 lottery ticket each week.
One of our new clients had originally phoned a national IFA and the eager consultant was more concerned to tell her that his firm was IFA of the Year than to listen and offer any kind of care. Who votes for these awards – life offices, IFAs, the media or the public? There is a challenge for someone to sort out.
Then I hear that the FSA is to embark on a second round of research into the Sandler sales process.
Apparently, the flawed interview process meant that its initial research has proved inconclusive. No prizes for working out who ultimately pays for that.
Arnold Wills is a director of A Wills & Co