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Dennis Hall: Why I’m giving Garry Heath’s trade body a second look

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Like many of us, I have received several emails over the last 12 months from Libertatem’s Garry Heath, all part of his flag-waving and fundraising efforts.

The first few I deleted immediately without a second thought but eventually I started reading them and have actually found myself nodding in agreement with some of the things he says although I have not been convinced  enough to join.

My trouble is that I am unable to shake off my first impressions of Heath when he was heading up the IFA Association (which became Aifa and is now Apfa). I avoided the IFAA because, to my eyes, it appeared to represent a type of adviser I never wanted to be. And I thought they were a pugnacious lot too.

That is a huge generalisation and risks offending a lot of people – no doubt many that had similar values to me but joined Aifa because they wanted to be a part of something that stood up for them. I was younger and awkwardly uncompromising back then.

My outlook softened during Paul Smee’s tenure at the trade body and I finally stumped up my dues after Chris Cummings filled the chair. I am still a member, although largely through apathy and a sense of duty than any real feeling of engagement, which is as much my fault as Apfa’s.

But back to Libertatem. It has made some valid points and highlighted aspects of the current state of regulation that make me uncomfortable as the owner of a small business but there is too much rhetoric and too many things I do not agree with, such as fighting for a reversal of the trail commission ban. Really?

Yet something else is holding me back; there is something about the language that is bothering me. It is the underlying pugnaciousness and the sense it is a fight they are after.

Of course, I could be totally wrong (it would not be the first time) and perhaps I am naïve to think you can tackle the issues without a fight. But when I look through the names on the Libertatem board, those I know I would not describe as moderates.

This is not a criticism of the individuals but a criticism of the board make-up. I just do not think it represents me or what I stand for.

Thinking more about that sentence, however, I find myself questioning who is representing me and what I stand for? Is it Apfa or the Personal Finance Society? Do I have to agree 100 per cent with Heath and the rest of the Libertatem board? Heck, I have been a card-carrying member of a political party whose policies I frequently disagree with simply because the alternative is worse.

I guess if the Financial Advice Market Review had delivered something tangible for the small and mid-sized firms that are the backbone of financial advice, then I would care less.

But with the Financial Advice Marfket Review  in thrall to technology and fast-tracking sandboxes rather than Financial Ombudsman Service and Financial Services Compensation Scheme reforms, and Apfa is not really focusing on the smaller directly regulated firm, perhaps I should at least call Heath to hear what is behind the rhetoric.

Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning

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Comments

There are 16 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Well Liberwhasis (Couldn’t they have found a better title? This is probably a marketing handicap) has survived another few months. Personally, I wonder if trade bodies per se will survive at all. I see the professional bodies thriving. IFP was subsumed within CISI – an eminently sensible move. Therefore, we have two professional bodies with some real clout.

    Why financial services believe it needs trade bodies AND professional bodies is something I have always had some difficulty in understanding. Solicitors, accountants, engineers and architects manage with just their professional bodies – why can’t we?

  2. Harry, for the very simple reason that the Trade bodies are totally ineffective. What is it about IFA’s coming together and providing a solid voice that frightens so many business owners? Having been involved over the past five years in trying to get IFA’s to come together to fight some of the gross injustices that we are the subject of, all I can say is that it is like trying to herd kittens! APFA is toothless, AIFA under Paul Smee did at least have some teeth. Solicitors certainly do have trade bodies, Black Solicitors Network for one. Perhaps you might ask yourself if deep down you are truly happy with the way that we are Regulated by an Organisation that is so undemocratic, judged by an organisation where there is no right of appeal and insured by an industry that can never give us the cover that is required because if minimum standards were introduced, the market place would vanish! Never has there been a more pressing need for Libertatem and Garry Heath.

  3. Dennis,
    You only have to look at the FMAR review and the lamentable results achieved so far.
    Only yesterday the Powers that be torpedoed the idea of a Product Levy as a possible solution to the FSCS funding crisis because it was “Outside its remit”
    The Advice sector is getting nowhere fast and these Professional Regulatory Bureaucrats are running rings around us.
    APFA and PFS are outmaneuvered and out thought in every major consultation.
    In my opinion this shows two things.
    1. The Regulators are unaccountable and have too much discretionary power.
    2. The Approach of APFA and PFS todate is weak and ineffective.

    We need a stronger and more aggressive approach and thus Gary Heath and Libertatem in my opinion fits the bill.

    • Hi Brendan, I don’t disagree with much of what you state, with the exception of the word ‘aggressive’. A stronger approach yes, but aggression? That said, I didn’t walk away from my meeting with Garry with an impression he is out and out aggressive; more forceful, determined, tenacious and at times belligerent I would say.

  4. Please do call him. Then we can see the follow up piece.

    • I’ve called and we’ve met, and a long discussion ensued, the best part of 2 hours actually. We agreed on some points, disagreed on others, and in the end…….well that’s for another article.

  5. Julian Stevens 1st June 2016 at 1:00 pm

    The trouble with APFA is that it’s all talk and no action. As we’ve seen, talk has achieved (virtually) nothing.

  6. @ Mark Learmont
    Do I take it you largely agree? (….Trade bodies are totally ineffective).
    Yes, some regulation is not only unjust, but also illogical and ineffective, but as so many have decided; it is what it is and we may as well just get on with it. Some input by the professional bodies may have some effect on occasion – we can only hope.

    However playing the ‘democratic’ card it a complete waste of time and a non-starter. What’s democratic? I happen to think that all the present UK political parties are a complete waste of time – so my stab at any democracy is right down the pan. Are you happy with every decision that comes out of Westminster? So you can vote every 5 years, but meanwhile you are in a virtual dictatorship if the incumbent party has a decent majority. The best outcome is a hung parliament – when they can effectively do very little. Meanwhile – just like regulation, we just get on with it as best we can. If we really can’t stand it we can always emigrate and in our business we can change career if we feel too hard done by.

  7. Since this article Dennis and I have met and as this is part of his next article I will not ruin the surprise.

    To pick up other comments. The name was an attempt to get away from initials and the alphabet soup. Choices are more limited than you might think. We could put it out to be renamed but we might go down the Boaty McBoatyface route a bit quickly.

    I suggest that given the issues we face with FSCS costs and others – the name of the body should be fairly unimportant . Hey maybe with time it will grow on you. I reckon when Gerry Dorsey became Englebert Humperdink there was questions about the name.

    The Professional Body Versus Trade Association is important. Professional Bodies run the professional standards of individuals. They do not seek to represent employers within the profession. They are more of a posh trade association with most of their members being employees of firms.

    Indeed it is possible that the needs of employers and professional bodies may be diametrically opposite. The Professions might want to introduce level 6 as a mandatory requirement. Employers might oppose it on the grounds on costs or a restriction of trade.

    Some professional bodies notably Doctors and Lawyers do try to do both – but they have the Government as their major professional employer through the NHS and the Legal Aid. We don’t.

    The big prize would be to lever the regulation away from the FCA and towards a professional body. That will be a long term job but would really make sense to everyone without a vested interest in the current regime.

    The last point is one of volume. We have had 15 years of silent acquiesence and where has it got us?

    We are still saddled with an unaccountable regulator, Longstop and the product levy was removed from the table before the FSCS Review even started. Asking nicely doesn’t seem to work.

    What is the regulator’s downside for refusing these things? – Nothing! They know that the current disunited adviser population will not embarrass them in Parliament or the Media. Until those who call the shots face a credible downside you will not see progress. It would be lovely if quiet discussion worked but it doesn’t and you have 15 years’ experience to prove it.

    We have completed our first year, existing members are renewing and new members are joining. Where are the 95% of DA firms not represented by anyone?

    Send in your membership form available from http://www.libertatem.org.uk/join and we will send you a membership certificate – and a set of ear plugs!

  8. The PFS needs a bonfire lit under them. They remind me of the story of the frog that will sit in a pan of water that is gradually moving towards boiling,it is in its comfort zone, just like the PFS, an then the next thing it knows, it has boiled to death!!
    The same goes for FOS and the FCA after listening to them at the Money Marketing Conference. Oh so disappointed!! Just like Brussels, gravy train springs to mind!!

  9. Christopher Petrie 1st June 2016 at 5:33 pm

    The name really is a problem. Poncy, pompous and meaningless to the people they are trying to influence.

    I can’t see why the PFS can’t set up a separate trade body within its system…they have the members, the money and the organisation to do so, if only they would.

  10. APFA, like AIFA before it, has proved incapable of fully understanding the issues.

    Maybe they should adopt the logo “we like meetings”.

    Unproductive and futile, in the main. Their time has gone and like a bad stain on a terry nappy they need washing away.

  11. @Christopher and @Harry… what’s in a name? Perhaps it’s a good job you weren’t around when they came up with Virgin, Aviva, Google, Yahoo and Moonpig, to name but a few. Ultimately it’s not the name (memorable though it obviously is), it’s the substance behind it. If you’re not getting behind them because you don’t like the name then it explains why the powers that be have nothing to fear from the sector. Meanwhile, over at Amazon Prime, similar meetings are obviously taking place… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dXELycthFI

  12. I am a firm believer, you have to trust the system, be that the legal system, government, local council, and more importantly and in our case the regulatory system, the latter, I’m am afraid, I wouldn’t and don’t trust the FCA, FOS, FSCS or the Treasury as far as I could throw them……..

    We have seen at first hand, they are unaccountable, deaf to our legitimate cry’s for fairness, and ignore their statutory duties.

    Personally I couldn’t give two hoots between trade or professional, I do care however on results ! who would you trust most of all to be on your side or (even if its in the back of their mind) be more concerned with their own accent of the greasy pole….. Richards ? Hannant ? or Heath ? (I know there are more so apologies if I have missed you out; if I have, maybe you need to make more noise)

    I know who my money is on…..

  13. Interesting comments. Now I am clearer on the distinction between trade and professional bodies it is my view that a professional body is the way to go. As Gary has said, it represents the advisers, while the Trade Body represents firms. Surely, it is the individual advisers’ interests that are paramount. The best interests of firms are not necessarily in line.

    As for being a posh trade association – I see nothing wrong with that at all. Indeed, I would have thought that a posh organisation that is intimately concerned with the standards of the profession would immediately carry more weight.

    As for Dennis’ meeting, his findings confirm that little has changed since the days of NFIFA. Belligerence only tends to work (if at all) if you are the bigger of the parties involved. If you are not all that will happen is that you get squashed by those who have might on their side. Sure, might is not necessarily right, but that’s the way of the world.

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