Is defence the best form of attack?

Like them or loathe them, the IFA Defence Union seems to be striking a chord with a growing group of IFAs disenchanted with the deal they are getting.

The Personal Finance Society thinks the IFADU is thoughtless, IFA Promotion finds the group’s existence unhelpful while Aifa offers a shrug of the shoulders when asked what it thinks of the body.

But there is little doubt that the defence union has rapidly become a thorn in the side of some parts of the financial services establishment. This is exactly what the group wants after self-styling itself as the nasty side of a “good cop, bad cop” fight to protect the interests of IFAs.

Aifa director-general David Severn – the implied good cop in this pairing – thinks IFADU offers IFAs who feel unrepresented the chance to have a voice.

He says: “What do I think of them? That is not relevant. I have to look after the interests of my members and they are most of the industry. Do I think it is helpful to have more than one voice? I certainly think it is important that all IFAs feel represented.

“The fact is that the IFADU is very small in numbers. I suppose that what we do is a lot more forward-thinking than what they do.”

Annoying, antagonistic, thoughtless and petty are just some of the adjectives that have been levelled at IFADU in the last few weeks – and this is from people in the same sector.

The defence union inundates with correspondence the Financial Ombudsman Service – which, judging by the volume of emails that members send, is a particular enemy – the FSA and MPs and have started legal battles claiming that the FOS breaches human rights and that product providers have breached contracts.

Product providers officially do not acknowledge the IFADU, preferring to consult with Aifa and the Personal Finance Society but behind close doors they are watching very carefully the input of IFAs on the IFADU website.

The IFADU has around 180 full members who have paid £95 for their firm and then £85 for each individual. There are more than twice this number again that receive regular email updates and contribute to online discussions of issues.

Co-ordinator Evan Owen says: “We share intelligence together. If there is a rule or a statement that we think needs raising or contesting, then we can do that. We give updates. The normal IFA cannot spend all day trawling through all the pages of the FSA and all these groups, so we pool our knowledge and do it for them.”

Owen, an IFA since 1985 who retired “disillusioned and exhausted” in 2002, is very much the voice of the IFADU. He acknowledges that many sectors of the financial services community may find the defence union’s work aggressive, negative and caught up in detail.

Owen says: “I can see why people think that we represent the worst side of being an IFA. But that is because we are the bad cops here. We are there for the good cop, bad cop. It is all right these other groups kowtowing to the regulator.”

IFAP chief executive David Elms thinks that it would be more helpful for IFAs if they sang from one hymn sheet – that of Aifa.

He says: “If you are disparate then people can drive a wedge between you. This group will never have a consumer face, they will always be just for the trade. They have nothing do to with the image of the IFA.”

So is there room for another IFA representative group? It certainly seems fair that those people who feel like they are unrepresented by other groups should have a platform.

PFS director of public affairs John Ellis says: “I do not really want to have any involvement in anything they do. They are a lobbying group. If our members wanted a group that shouted from the hustings then they would have asked for it – they had the chance but what they wanted was a professional body.”

The last thing that IFAs need at the moment is an image crisis so maybe it is a good thing for the aggressive face of the IFADU to be turned away from the consumer and for it to focus on the regulators – for now.

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