Politicians set their sights on advice gap


2015 is likely to be remembered as a year of surprise when it comes to politics.

But it was not just the election of David Cameron’s Conservative party as a majority Government that proved unpredictable.

Their former coalition partners the Liberal Democrats were also reduced to a mere parliamentary nub, with just eight MPs.

And the Labour party reacted to a resounding defeat with a lurch to the left, and the election of Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader.

Even in the days prior to the May election, any pundit predicting a single one of those outcomes would have been the subject of ridicule.

Cicero Group executive chairman Iain Anderson says: “We are ending the year in a way that I don’t think anyone could have been expecting.

“And not just on the makeup of the Government, but also the opposition and everything happening elsewhere.

“I had also personally expected the pensions story to play a much bigger role in the election campaign than it did in the end, and Labour didn’t really weaponise it as well as they’d hoped because there’s still an awful lot of politicians finding it difficult to get into the detail.”

Since then, a newly empowered Conservative Government has unleashed a raft of reforms likely to affect advisers – including the launch of the Financial Advice Market Review.

The FAMR will explore what kind of support consumers want access to, whether any advice gaps exist, how they can be closed, and what role technology such as robo-advice could play.

PR firm MRM head of public affairs Havard Hughes says the scope of the review was a surprise in its own right, but adds that its ambition was only hinted at by the appointment of Harriet Baldwin as Treasury economic secretary in the aftermath of the election.

The accessibility and cost of advice was a cause frequently championed by Baldwin during the last Parliament, alongside her fellow Conservative MP Mark Garnier.

At the time of FAMR’s launch Personal Finance Society chief executive Keith Richards said some would view the effort as “RDR Mk II”, but speaking this week, he admits: “It’s actually far more significant than that.

“It’s the Government’s own plan and it’s focused on how to increase access, based on the needs of the consumer and not reform of the industry, and it may even include reform of regulation.

“We have also seen two very senior people in the director general of the Treasury and the acting chief executive of the FCA personally chair roundtables face-to-face with practitioners and we have never seen that before.

“It’s quite a significant difference from anything else we have seen in the last 25 years.”

Anderson says the launch of the review was likely driven by Baldwin.

He says: “I think Harriett would quite like this to be called the Baldwin Review. When she was a backbencher, she was very excited about some of these issues, so we now have a minister that cares a lot about this stuff. The review is only three years after the RDR and it’s a big piece of work.”