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Profile: PFS boss Keith Richards on the need for advisers to unite

PFS chief executive Keith Richards on keeping the trade body ‘modern, relative and inclusive’

When Keith Richards joined the Personal Finance Society as chief executive in 2013, advisers were four months into the post-RDR environment and many experts had predicted mass contraction of the sector. Even the PFS expected its membership to drop in line with this rather gloomy outlook. However, PFS membership has significantly increased over the last four years from around 23,000 to 38,000.

It was obvious to Richards that the way forward was reforming and evolving the role of the professional body, ensuring it remained “modern, relative and inclusive”. Central to that is engaging more effectively with members of the FCA, consumer groups and the Government, he says.

“Over the past few years, we have been committed to the evolution of our own role and purpose to ensure we better support the needs of our members and the consumers they serve.

“Operating under a Royal Charter with Her Majesty the Queen as patron provides a constant reminder for me of why we should be engaged in the key policy and regulatory issues facing the clients of the personal finance profession.”

Profile: New PFS president on ending the infighting and uniting the profession

Richards is confident the PFS now has a higher profile with the Government, policymakers and consumer press, even though few personal finance journalists had heard of it a few years ago.

“We’ve made a link there and are now regularly called up by members of the press,” he says.

“Members of the FCA are also regularly in attendance at our CPD events, as are The Pensions Regulator, the FOS and the FSCS. Attendance at our CPD events has risen four-fold over the last four years. We’ve been a disparate and fragmented profession for too long; we need to demonstrate a more unified front.”

Richards feels privileged to be heading up the PFS at such a key stage of its evolution.

“The advice sector has emerged as a profession post-RDR. Every day there is growth in confidence, despite the challenges that businesses in any sector face, such as reform and economic pressures,” he says.

“Most advisers are relatively upbeat as there is demand for the services they provide and they see more opportunities for that growth to continue.”

He acknowledges the concerns around the unintended consequences of pension freedoms, in particular defined benefit transfers, but says Mifid II is less of an issue, being “more a small series of irritants”.

It is Brexit which has the potential to cause the biggest problems. Richards says UK clients working or living in Europe have been concerned about cross-border arrangements for their advisers.

“Advisers can operate freely in Europe at the moment but with Brexit, that’s likely to end. It means UK consumers will become stranded and can’t access the advice they want.

“So we have arranged an agreement with the European Financial Planning Association on the minimum recognised qualifications. This provides a gateway into Europe post-Brexit, to protect the interests of UK advisers and their clients who are living or working abroad.”

The PFS will also be providing country specific tax and regulatory information for advisers who want to operate in EU countries post-Brexit.

PFS chief: Stricter DB transfer advice rules are good news

Richards sees growing confidence in the advice sector reflected in the way more advisers are putting succession plans in place rather than selling their businesses.

He believes this is healthy, not only for advisers who have embedded value in the firms they have built up, but also for the new advisers taking the reins and the industry in general.

“Experienced advisers can be the mentors to the advisers of the future. That is what the profession is trying to encourage. Our London Committee has launched Capital PFS, an initiative helping younger people team up with experienced advisers.

“We don’t want to lose the softer skills that are often needed for client engagement. It’s great to have the technical skills and qualifications but we need to make sure that we also transfer the experience and soft skills that many of the older advisers have to the younger ones,” he says.

The hard facts on soft skills

While many in the industry believe 56 is still the average age for advisers, the PFS puts it is closer to the mid-40s.

“The average age of IFAs has always been an interesting debate. It has just been the dynamics of financial advice, as the sector has been made up mainly of smaller firms where it’s not easy to devote time to train new talent. But we are starting to see new talent as the sector has evolved,” says Richards.

Financial services was a second career for Richards, who had been working for the Royal Navy at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. A work colleague’s husband was in financial services and in 1982 Richards made the move into the insurance industry – seen as a respected and trusted sector that offered a job for life.

In the 1990s, Richards rose through the ranks in sales at Royal London, eventually becoming head of retail, before joining Tenet in 2004. He left his role as Tenet’s group distribution and development director in 2013 to become PFS chief executive.

So what are his other proud achievements, apart from better relationships with the Government, the regulator and other industry organisations?

“We have focused on presidential themes set by our member practitioners which have included pro-bono, good practice, engaging the public, new talent and financial planning,” says Richards.

“Each year, we focus on one key thing that can make a difference. As an example, we launched a pro-bono advice programme in association with Citizens Advice with a view to extending it to an additional pro-bono advice programme for injured ex-service personnel. We are also working with the MoD on how we can help ex-service personnel with second careers in advice.”

Five questions 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

Focus on the things you can influence, rather than worrying about the things you can’t. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

Too much coffee as a result of back-to-back meetings. 

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year? 

Growing confidence within the profession and recognition by the FCA via thematic reviews, as well as Government inclusion in pension freedoms and FAMR.  

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…? 

Ensure that every mouse mat, computer screen, meeting room and operational area reminded staff of the ultimate objective: to inspire public confidence to engage with the markets the FCA regulates. 

Any advice for new advisers? 

It’s a fantastic career opportunity which is reinforced by the evident consumer need and increasing demand. 

CV

2013-present: Chief executive, Personal Finance Society

2004-2013: Sales and marketing director, then group distribution and development director, Tenet

1995 -2004: Various roles from regional director to head of retail, Royal London

1982-1995: Various roles in the insurance and advice industry

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Comments

There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Shouldn’t that read “modern, RELEVANT and inclusive”?

    As for the average age of regulated financial advisers, from where does somewhere in the 40’s come? Every couple of months we read of another 15 or 20 firms having been declared in default (presumably due to uninsured liabilities for the sales of duff products and/or plain bad advice). So, unless a high proportion of the individuals involved are being allowed to phoenix into new/replacement regulated enterprises, the rate of attrition must surely exceed that at which new blood is entering the profession.

    I don’t think the real picture is as rosy as Keith would have us believe.

  2. Keith, you’ll have seen all the complaints about the CII trying to increase revenue by creating a monopoly through combining learning material and exams on its qualifications. This involves cutting out alternative options like Caliqual/Calibrand/BTS, reducing advisers choice and increasing costs.

    We’ve also seen the end of the CII revision course programme (please don’t try the local institute line, we know that won’t materialise) and the in-house option only works for big firms with losts of staff. This is a backward step.

    Can you:

    Explain what the PFS position is on these changes? Presumably you were consulted and had your say?

    Explain why this was forced on us without any consultation. You have many means of sharing details and seeking views rather than just imposing this.

    Provide evidence backing up Simon Graham’s claim that the vast majority of members prefer an inclusive package. The feedback says this isn’t the case.

    Given that the CII CEO has received more complaints on this than anything else in her time in charge, will the CII rethink their position and go back to giving choice to members on what they do and don’t buy?

  3. I don’t think I’m doing Keith Richards a disservice when I say he has a very keen interest in his public image and profile, and that of the PFS & CII. So I’m sure he will have viewed the raft of complaints on the bundling of CII qualification study materials and exams.

    Disappointing then that he’s chosen to go silent on this matter. No doubt hoping it will just blow over. Part of his job is to ensure the financial planning community gets a fair deal from the CII.

    I’d like an answer to the following questions. Let’s hope Keith steps up.

    What is the PFS position on these changes? Presumably Keith/PFS were involved in making the decision?

    Explain why this change was introduced without any consultation. The CII & PFS have many means of sharing details and seeking views rather than just imposing decisions.

    Please provide evidence supporting Simon Graham’s claim that the vast majority of members prefer an inclusive package. The feedback says this isn’t the case.

    Given the number of complaints the CII CEO has received, will the CII rethink their position and go back to giving choice on what customers do and don’t buy?

  4. Trying to get the adviser community to unite is a bit like trying to herd cats. (Good) advice is a many splendored thing and there can never be one model to suit everyone’s style.

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