MM leader: Back to the future on bank advice

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

There is a perfect regulatory storm brewing that could spell trouble for advisers.

Hot on the heels of our exclusive last week that the Financial Advice Market Review could see the rewriting of the RDR, FCA acting chief executive Tracey McDermott gave an interview to BBC’s Money Box admitting a return to some form of commission could be on the cards.

McDermott has been in the headlines for other reasons too, namely that she does not want the FCA top job on a permanent basis.

At the same time, Santander has set out its plans to return to the investment advice market, with rival banks either waiting in the wings or keeping a watching brief on whether to make a comeback of their own.

For the cynics among us, all of these developments happening at the same time are all too convenient against a backdrop of the bank lobby that is clearly alive and well.

You need only look at their recent results to see how wrong banks have got sales in the past (if further evidence was needed). A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggest banks have set aside at least £1.8bn for customer redress over the past year.

About £90m of this relates to Santander itself, including a £43m set-aside in October relating to wealth and investment products and earmarked after agreeing a revised redress scheme with the FCA. This does not bode well.

It is argued that enough water has gone under the bridge since banks pulled out of advice en masse around the introduction of the RDR. Punitive fines and greater accountability rules should curb the misselling excesses of the past (admittedly, this is not an argument advanced by advisers).

But can a leopard really change its spots?

It would be a significant turnaround if bank advisers could shake off the reputation of cowboy salesmen. If they can, and it is a big if, the use of technology and a guidance-led service could  serve those with £50,000 or less to invest, who arguably advisers may not be targeting anyway.  Those with more complex needs would clearly need to be referred to an adviser.

But it all comes down to that rather nebulous concept often touted in regulatory speeches – culture. Has this really changed enough in the banking industry to hand them one of the greatest responsibilities there is in financial services – giving suitable advice?

I am not holding my breath.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing. Follow her on Twitter: @Natalie_Holt_MM