In a recent Money Marketing article, an adviser commented that, in the mid 1990s, he had to “choose between the LIA and Sofa as organisations to associate with”. He chose Sofa.
I feel sorry for him and others like him in feeling this was a tough decision because it implies that one organisation is better than the other.
How do these people feel now, knowing that their “professional” Sofa is about to combine with the “salesy” LIA?
Indeed, it is noticeable that press comments by concerned members seem to come from the LIA contingent rather than Sofa. Possibly, this is because Sofa members have already decided to vote against the merger and no discussion is required? Or perhaps the deal seems to favour Sofa far more than the LIA? Or maybe, just maybe, LIA members have far more passion and commitment to ensuring that the public are better served?
I have been a happy and active member of both organisations for over 10 years and have spoken at conferences of both. It was never a choice between right and wrong, better or worse, more professional or less, but understanding the distinct offering of each organisation, taking the best from each and discarding what was not relevant.
There was no question of taking a moral high ground, only an understanding that, in order to be a good adviser, I desired a range of skills that I felt no single organisation could nurture for me.
I would hope that, to date, no one has considered me as anything less than totally professional and client-focused. So have I made a mistake in being a member of both?
I have got just as much out of each organisation in my career development and so I feel I can make an unbiased point. Fundamentally, this is because I understand and do not run shy of the fact that we are in a sales business, whereas most Sofa members, based on my personal experience, consider sales to be foul language.
At Sofa meetings, I am consistently disappointed that, whenever any subject outside technical knowledge is attempted, people have nothing to say. It is this blinkered approach and mistaken holier-than-thou stance by Sofa members that I find most disturbing and a potential threat to the success of the merger proposition. For example, why should board members be AFPC qualified?
Even though I passed my AFPC in 1992, my experience is that entrepreneurial spirit, excitement and passion drive forward organisations, not the level of qualifications possessed by the directors. It also concerns me that very many Sofa AFPC members seem like back-office types as opposed to front-line salespeople.
In my opinion, professional financial advisers also have to be good salespeople. However, the trend is to reject the fact that we are involved in a sales environment. With the emergence of more qualifications, there is growing opinion that anyone with decent technical knowledge should deny being involved in sales.
The very process of giving financial advice involves creating the opportunity to make a sale of a service or product that the client needs. Adequately identifying a client's needs necessitates good interpersonal sales skills. I have always enhanced these skills through the LIA and Million Dollar Round Table, not Sofa.
Of course, good technical knowledge of product, tax, legislation or other related issues is crucial but if we cannot communicate these to a client, then what is the point? For example, many clients are left grossly underinsured because the adviser did not have the belief or passion about the subject to sell a high enough sum assured. Merely being able to recite the technical definitions will not make the client take the action that he needs to. More people take action with emotion and then justify it with logic than the other way round.
Clearly, the days have gone where sales skills alone were the only requirement for success. But advisers with only technical ability cannot survive, unable to motivate their clients into taking action, leaving them underinsured, underinvested and overeducated.
My concern is that the merger will dilute this appreciation, as it seems not to be a merger but a takeover by the CII of the LIA. I have never trusted the CII to care about our side of the insurance sector, ever since it timed exams in the first week of April, clearly not appreciating that this is traditionally our busiest time of the year. I am still not convinced that, on the proposed terms, the merger is in the best interest of both sides. And what a lousy name.
Bhupinder Anand is managing director of Anand Associates