In my previous column for Money Marketing, I said I would reach out to Garry Heath to hear what he had to say about Libertatem. You might recall me describing him (and his ilk) as pugnacious. In contrast, I would be courteous and open-minded. Who was I kidding? I had already decided I would not be joining Heath or his band of not-so-merry men.
To avoid not knowing what I was talking about, and also to try and score points over Heath, I found myself dwelling more than usual about regulation, trade bodies and representation. The more thinking and reading I did, the more I began to change my mind. Not about Heath and his not-so-merry men, but about some of their aims.
Then a few more pieces of the jigsaw started slotting together. One piece was a brief conversation with Personal Finance Society chief executive Keith Richards, where I bemoaned the Financial Advice Market Review’s rejection of a long-stop. Richards said something interesting, which I will attempt to paraphrase: he said that every meeting between professional and trade bodies, and the FCA and Treasury was predicated on “what is in it for the consumer?”.
In an ideal world it is a sensible approach to take, provided it is universal and consistently applied. But I left the conversation feeling “what is in it for the consumer?” is interpreted differently depending on which sector is under scrutiny.
When talking about businesses that are not too big to fail (that would include most financial advice businesses) the “what is in it for the consumer?” approach has been applied to the extent firms have gone bust. But when talking about banks threatening to move business overseas (think HSBC) then people in power begin to listen. “What is in it for the consumer?” suddenly takes on a different hue.
Former FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley’s departure was supposedly linked to the leak of market sensitive information, but it also came at the same time the attitude toward big banks became more benign. Coincidence? Probably.
It is knowing I am too small to register on anyone’s radar that tells me it should not only be about “what is in it for the consumer?” but also “what’s in it for the adviser?” I saw very little in FAMR to suggest anything the existing adviser community can bring to the table has actively featured on the FCA or Treasury radar. Their attention is now on organisations with deep enough pockets to develop technology-led advice solutions.
So, to even the score ever so slightly, I decided I wanted someone in my corner with all the fire and tenacity of an angry Jack Russell nipping at the heels of the policymakers. I joined Libertatem.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard talk about a “regulatory dividend” for going above and beyond what the regulator asks for, but if everything is predicated on “what is in it for the consumer?” it is never going to happen. It is time this worm turned.
Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning