On New Year's Day, I walked along the shore road out of Kovilam Kovalam to the small fishing village of Vizjhinjam in Southern India where there had been, according to The Hindu Times, “some difficulties between the youths of the various religions in the area”.
Apparently, they do not share a common view of the future or indeed the past. They worship different gods.
A young man stopped me and asked if I was a Catholic? He must have assumed that I was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim.
Believe it or not, his question set me thinking about a parallel universe – financial services back in the UK – a world almost equally surreal and polarised. The ebb and flow of debate has washed back and forth in the UK and there are those who believe that the tide of history has finally turned against the IFA.
And particularly how this would almost certainly be the year, (okay, maybe I exaggerate, the following year after then) which will finally see the demise of independent financial advisers.
Let's face it, who would want to use one of them when anyone can access a website and, with little effort, select the most suitable product for their individual needs? Or you could simply pop along to your local bank.
Do we still call them banks now that down at the post office “Consignia” a fully trained member of staff can deal with all your financial matters? I think we used to call this bancassurance.
I am pretty sure I read somewhere that this non-commission approach seems to have backfired and the leading company in that field which has been anti-IFA seems to have got itself into some difficulty?
So, I thought, IFAs are dead on their feet? – it's just that they are such an intransigent lot but they do not know it yet.
Who would really want to entrust their darkest secrets to an intermediary in the hope of achieving salvation when you could go direct to the main man himself – or herself?
Then there is the 1 per cent per cent world (that news has not reached Vizjhin jam yet) which will defin itely finish off IFAs because big companies can just about make enough for themselves without paying IFAs for introductions.
They will have to charge fees – and everyone knows that just will not happen.
Anyway, why worry about all that when polarisation will get them in the long run.
The Government wants to make a success of stakeholder pensions and give Catmarked Isas as a big push.
So, who is best placed in holding the public's trust to shift the this stuff? It is the banks, of course, and, once the client deals with the bank, they will be so happy with the service that they will return again and again.
No need for middlemen when you have the nice “listening people” on every high street.
I walked on, avoiding the question by the young man but turned my mind to why the public back home would willingly pay for the services of an adviser or why, alternatively, they would join the new web religion and diligently spend many hours in prudent internet research for the optimum pension, giving full and thorough consideration to the appropriate tax allowances?
It seemed just as absurd as my current setting.
Before my thoughts could return to that parallel universe, a bull elephant walked right out in front of me.
John Cowan is group sales director at Scottish Amicable