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Independent View

Once upon a time it was almost as if there was a competition between embryonic regul- atory bodies, which wereaiming to stake their claim for the longest acronym in the brave new world of financial services regulation.

The water moves as rap- idly under the bridge today as it did 15 years ago and, in the same way that intermediaries had to establish their business plan and seek out the correct home for their business operation, of much greater significance for investors now is the continuing need to plan their financial future.

We are shortly going to have IPA to add to SHP, Isa, PP, GPP, EPP, Sipp, Sass, Pep, Tessa, not forgetting CGT and LTC.

There are few awards so far for the Plain English campaign but never mind, investors will be given sufficient information for them to arrive at an informed decision through the use of a decision tree.

Good forestry practice, as we all know, requires regular attention and periodic thinning out to produce the best quality timber, much in the same way that long-term financial goals need to be regularly reviewed.

Call me a cynic but at the end of the day I believe investors will still need guidance to ensure they can see the wood for the trees and have the full facts available to enable them to shape their financial destiny. There are those who see advice as an unnecessary part of the financial planning process but presumably we are talking about the self-same type of investor who has had to make on the whole fairly simple choices with the rec-ent Scottish Widows compensation document.

I am sure I was not alone in having a fairly constant stream of clients requiring help concerning one relatively straight-forward document, putting to one side, of course, the blatant database-gathering exercise by the company, which has clearly put down a markerthat IFA-introduced business counts for little.

At the same time as all this is taking place, there is the ongoing review of polarisation. It seems that no change tothe present arrangement isnot a possibility and the upshot is likely to bring about thefurther blurring of a distinc-tion among advisers.

The same investors confused with their choices are also going to have difficulties with the selection of an adviser. This clearly suits the sizeable lobbying forces that are at work at present salivating at the perceived opportunity to generate further profit. We all know how they will achieve this objective, too.

In practice, the market is changing quite rapidly, offering supermarket-style products. So long as the price is right, there is an ever increasing selection of multi-manager- type funds and an ability to move between sectors and managers, should the need arise. There is, of course, a vital flaw in all this and that is whatever is the right selection today may not continue to be in the future.

We have seen many examples of a star performer disappearing subsequently down a black hole. It is, of course, the ongoing advice that should be there to guide investors.

Forgive me but I do not see how this can be provided by some decision tree or a call centre, where most people&#39s experience seems to be one of exasperation and annoyance.

With the suggestion that unqualified staff will be able to assist with the decision-making process (I still remain unsure as to where assistance finishes and advice starts), are we not in danger of throwing out the good practice that has been established over the long term with an effective programme of training and CPD.

I think when I come back I would like to be a compen-sation lawyer. Undoubtedly, an explosion of future claims is definitely in the making unless common sense is allowed to prevail.

Regular advice and consumer education are the key areas for investors to succeed with their financial planning. I do not feel my job is under threat just yet.


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