Leader: Has independent status become less important?

Natalie Holt, journalist with Money Marketing Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

Distribution is changing – that much is clear. In any given week, we hear word of the latest advice firm to be snapped up, with collective running tallies of assets under advice, number of clients, and number of advisers acquired (that tends to be the order of priority).

The deals announced over recent weeks involving Almary Green and Baigrie Davies, and the subsequent staunch defences in Money Marketing over why the deals were done, are headline- grabbing because of the nature of the firms being bought. These are not two-bit operations but well-established, professional advice firms; “pukka businesses” as one commentator described them.

Which is all the more reason why their move to a restricted model under Standard Life-owned advice arm 1825 is so surprising.

Although it feels like a lifetime ago now, in reality it was not all that long ago when independent status was championed above all else. It was 2012 when then Aviva RDR implementation manager Ross Anderson set the cat among the pigeons by claiming over 75 per cent of the market would be restricted by 2015. At the time, that seemed like a hellish version of the future.

Those forecasts, made perhaps more to provoke than enlighten, did not come to pass. Yet the story told by the latest forecasts from EY, which have not been published before now, paint a similarly gloomy picture for IFAs.

EY, which famously got a kicking for predicting an RDR-inspired downturn in adviser numbers, believes restricted will count for at least half the market within the next five years.

A disclaimer – it has been difficult for Money Marketing to verify how many advisers are IFAs and how many are restricted currently. Apparently the FCA does not collect this data, and Apfa and the Personal Finance Society do not split their member data this way. Does the very fact this data is not collected suggest independence is not considered as important as it once was?

When deciding on the merits of one advice model over another, or choosing who to align your firm with in future, advisers are well versed in separating the vested interests espousing the cost of independence from the facts.

But speaking to advisers, it is reassuring that despite the forecasts pointing in one direction, there is a core of advisers for whom independence is paramount. Among them, there may be advisers who do not meet the regulatory definition, but remain independent of thought and are continually pushing for good client outcomes whatever the label.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing