Who are we? Professional financial advisers, social workers, industry politicians, readers of the trade press? What does it say on the tin? What is a financial adviser?
Someone who provides, as the IFP says, “a professional service for clients who need objective assistance in organising their personal or corporate financial affairs to more readily achieve their goals” or is it someone whose day-to-day existence is overwhelmed with what is going on in the financial services industry?
It is nearly impossible to avoid references to current industry issues of the day under the heading: What are they going to do to us now? Presently, it includes such issues as CP121, Tiner, Pickering and Sandler.
We might think financial services politics is now where we are at but it really is not.
It may interest us but do not forget that our clients are just not interested in what fills the “pinks”. Are our clients concerned that we get daily consultative papers or rule changes from the FSA, the MCCB, GISC and a plethora of guidance on “hot issues” from Aifa, the LIA, the IFP and the ABI? No because it goes with our territory not theirs.
Clients want our advice, our hand-holding and our cherishing. They appreciate that our services provide money for them when it is needed most and, whatever else has changed in our working lives in the last 10 or, in my case, 40 years, the truth is that, while regulation has changed our business structures and procedures, our role has not changed.
The regulators and practitioners have a common goal – consumer satisfaction. If all of us achieve that, everything else falls into place.
It is common to see our industry knocked. In some cases, criticism has been deserved but we all know the value of good advice and of financial products bought from our industry. Our critics might say that we would say that, wouldn't we and point out the industry's failings. But it is high time we spent more time talking of the benefits we provide rather than view ourselves as some perennial target for criticism.
I have been around long enough to have handled many retirements and claims on sickness or death increasingly so over the last few years. Recently, within two days of getting the documentation, a life office paid on the death of a young mother the proceeds of a policy written under trust.
Do you think that I might be proud of my industry and the job we do? You bet. We often criticise company admin but, on this occasion, I was pleased to write to the staff concerned who, in my book, fully appreciated that a life policy is “a piece of paper, a drop of ink and a promise to pay”.
We hear ignorant talk of life insurance as though it were a heavy-handed sale rather than the first priority in giving financial advice. For Isas and stakeholder pensions to be prioritised ahead of protection is rarely common sense.
Another recent example is a critical-illness policy that ensured repayment of a mortgage and additionally a child's university education despite her father being unable to work. This is what our industry helped the father to achieve.
Many clients holidaying, running their cars and enjoying retirement after a lifetime of work do so thanks to their prudence, and our persuasion, in saving in a pension and investing capital.
Of course, we have to be aware of what affects our business. But we must not forget that whatever is happening in Canary Wharf or Whitehall, we know that we have unique knowledge, communication skills and the ability to provide money if you live too long, die too soon or become ill through sickness or accident. If we lose that perspective, we will be no good to anyone.
A financial adviser has the power to be of great value in ensuring clients and their families can maintain their standard of living at any time – whatever happens.
This is what we do. We should not be shy of talking about that. It is what the consumer should expect from us. Giving confidence in consumers is what gives us security, as well as them.
We should not be confused about who we are and what we do. The industry does much good when it is doing “exactly what it says on the tin”.
Len Warwick is managing director at Warwick Butchart Associates