The world has become a less deferential place over the decades but the concept of “the professions” still lingers, conjuring up images of expertise, probity and sober good judgement.
Many individual advisers and planners can rightfully claim a place in that group but recognition for advice more generally is proving a bit of a slog. We are still a relatively young profession and, let’s face it, still have some historic baggage to shake off.
All the more important, then, that the face we present to the world should be truly professional in every way. That is why I was dismayed to read about Which?’s recent report, which found advisers claiming incorrect qualifications on various “find an adviser” sites.
I am afraid I am not surprised. Nearly a year ago, I checked a well-known site and, having worked hard to obtain chartered status for myself and my firm, was disappointed to see a local firm wrongly listed as such.
I then checked some more and found that incorrect chartered listings were pretty common right across the country. And no, I am afraid we cannot just blame the website filters, since clicking through to the summary of firms’ details I found the same false claims there as well.
Perhaps we could give some firms the benefit of doubt. Maybe the person arranging their listing misunderstood the difference between an individual chartered financial planner and the corporate designation of chartered financial planners.
But where the firm had no chartered advisers at all, it is hard to explain it away as human error. In fact, it begins to look like a deliberate attempt to mislead.
Of course, I raised it with the website (with little response) and my concerns were covered in the press at the time. That makes it all the more dismaying that little appears to have changed.
What I want to suggest is that this is not just a case of a couple of bad apples but a failure by all concerned.
Shoddy practice by too many advisers misrepresenting themselves, a serious lack of due diligence from the “find an adviser” sites and the professional bodies’ and FCA’s failure to take these matters seriously.
To some, misrepresenting a logo on a website or a few letters after a person’s name might seem like a minor matter. But I think the opposite. It is indicative of the problem that lies at the heart of advisers as professionals: the question of honesty and trust. Heaven knows if a lawyer or (God forbid) a doctor misrepresented themselves we would be rightly outraged – and we would expect their regulators to come down like a tonne of bricks.
Likewise, we should be outraged and our professional bodies and the FCA should sit up and take notice.
Of course, there are other ways to check an adviser’s bona-fides and a wise consumer might do so (although, in passing, there is still no register for independence/restricted status). But a consumer should not have to do that. They should be able to have the confidence that, among the ranks of advisers, misinformation and misrepresentation are just not tolerated.
Until a client can have that confidence, our goal of being regarded as true professionals is stalled.
Scott Gallacher is director of Rowley Turton