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Nic Cicutti: Advisers need a clear message to be able to regain trust

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Every year I go on a scooter-riding holiday abroad with a bunch of friends. Negotiating the dramatic twists and turns of a small road 5,000 or 6,000ft up in the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, as a group of us did this year, is an excellent way of clearing your mind of so much superfluous junk.

But eventually you have to come back, sadly. And so it was that I returned the other night, to find a cryptic message waiting for me in my email inbox: “Looks like Keith Richards agrees with you.”

Which was how, after a quick online search, I found myself on the Daily Mail’s website, reading about how Keith would “mix different chemicals into powerful drug cocktails to see what would happen”.

Now, although I’ve enjoyed more than my share of alcohol and both smoked and inhaled dodgy cigarettes occasionally, unlike the subject of this article I have never “looked upon my body as a laboratory”.

It was only when I looked at the pictures that I realised the Keith being quoted was not the fresh-faced chief executive at the Personal Finance Society but someone else entirely.

And the article I had been referred to was a comment piece in Money Marketing, where the “real” Keith Richards had argued that the industry has engaged in too much in-fighting, harming consumer confidence in itself.

Keith wrote: “Continuing pressures of regulatory change and risk have contributed to divisive reactions, which can often attract unsubstantiated negative comment or views from one adviser firm about another, or against other sectors of retail financial services.”

He went on to add: “For those who would like to see greater respect and confidence in the sector they represent, it is important to recognise the risk of unintended consequences that public statements can have.”

To the person who emailed me, Keith Richards’ comments echoed those I made the preceding week, in which I argued that the IFA side of the industry was no longer being listened to seriously in the corridors of power, partly because it was seen as self-centered and focused only on its own needs.

Actually, I beg to differ. What we have in common is a similar disdain for some of the more ridiculous commentary, usually to be found at the bottom of online articles, passing as a critique of what the author has said on a given subject.

Indeed, evidence for this can be seen in the reaction to Keith’s article, in which we are told that “the PFS is the FCA’s puppet” and that he should “just shut up”.

In my case the other week, I had lots of comments about MPs’ expenses, as well as personal attacks on the unnamed MP I’d spoken to.

Probably the saddest comment came from someone who wrote: “Most IFAs feel disenfranchised and…. it is pointless to get involved politically.”

Which is fine – except that like them or loathe them, MPs still have a certain influence and effective lobbying can make a difference. But you have to have the right message to put across.

In contrast, Keith’s view, and that of the PFS, is that it is divisions between different sections of the advice sector that are causing problems for the industry as a whole. In other words, it is the efforts of those like Gill Cardy’s IFA Centre at one extreme, or the old Adviser Alliance at the other, that risk harming the advice sector.

In fairness to Keith, he probably wouldn’t go that far. It is the language of abuse he does not like, pointedly referring to the fact that “the FCA has made it clear it intends to monitor media and social networking sites”.

My position is different and I hope some of you will forgive me if I express in in stark terms.

First, while the overall debate may not be about different “types” of advice, I have always argued in favour of IFAs as the “purest” element of the profession. It is they who have the greatest potential to differentiate themselves within the advice industry by displaying the full extent of their professionalism.

Second, despite this potential, in the past 10 years IFAs have lost much of the genuine influence they had within the corridors of power. This is in large measure because the “mystique” surrounding independent financial advice, as opposed to other sales-driven and product-limited forms of offering financial solutions, has gradually evaporated.

Ironically, while contributors to my own column spoke disdainfully about MPs in general and my contact in particular, they ignored the reality of how isolated they are in terms of the support they might be able to call on from the media consumer groups compared to a decade ago.

Third, while “unity” is important, what really matters is vision of how to project the advice sector as a professional entity, interested in seeking alliances with other consumer bodies to promote higher standards of financial advice, as well as better financial solutions for consumers as a whole.

Unity will never come through self-imposed silence. To achieve it, argument in the pages of Money Marketing and its website – wide-ranging, passionate yet disciplined – is essential. But it needs to be debate with a higher purpose in mind: without it, the advice industry will never regain the influence it once had had.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

There are 10 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Julian Stevens 20th June 2013 at 8:58 am

    Probably the most influential voice the IFA cause has ever had is that of Garry Heath. I wonder why he’s not on the APFA council, if not (with all due respect to Chris Hannant) DG thereof.

  2. Exasperated Me 20th June 2013 at 9:41 am

    Every time I think of you on a scooter the image of one of the characters on Mario Kart pops up..

  3. No need to worry, in a few years there will be no advisers. The Adjustment Bureau will have done it’s work and you can ride off into the sunset on your scooter.
    Unless you find some other section of society on which to pour your vitriol.

  4. “Which is fine – except that like them or loathe them, MPs still have a certain influence and effective lobbying can make a difference. But you have to have the right message to put across”

    You mean the crisp green type?

  5. Nic, seriously, this is called trawling the bottom. Having to use forum posts to back up your article is just about the pits. My clients of the past 30 years seem to trust me but I dare hazard a guess that doesn’t extent to our illustrious members of Parliament as they’ve let us, themselves and the Country down far too often. I’m sure you must lie at night wondering what other missive you can come up with to wind those pesky IFA’s. The banks had all the influence, not IFA’s and it wasn’t that hard to see was it really? Where have you been looking the last 10 years? I can guess….!!!

  6. Putting the Catastrophic RDR to one side for a minute. You refer to a time when IFAs had all the influence ? funny then that other most damaging regulatory interference, De-polarisation, happened at a time when by your admission the IFA had the high ground – you are as usual talking out of your proverbial a+se. The vested interests in government and regulation are directly related to the size and influence they exert – IFAs are by nature individuals and as many have said akin to herding cats.
    Trust/confidence in advisers is not an issue never has been never will be IFAs account for a tiny % of complaints. MPs would kill for a similar trust/confidence rating but to come out with this drivel about MPs and good old Keith Richards opinion which frankly counts for sod all is even by your lowly standards absolute balderdash !

  7. A thought provoking article again, but one which I can’t identify with.

    1. I have (as an IFA) never suffered from ‘lack of trust’. In fact precisely the contrary. I have to fight my clients to get them to read and accept reports and information and explain that “Oh Harry please just get on with it, we trust you” is unfortunately not acceptable in the modern age.

    2. Jacob Hogg recently made a very interesting observation, he was referring to politics, but I think it also applies in this case: I’m not really concerned with the collective; my focus is on the individual. I am sure this resonates with many other IFAs. I fully accept that the majority of people certainly do not trust insurance companies and indeed this is one of the reasons people consult an adviser. In these cases an adviser is an intermediary. He stands between the client and the provider to ensure the best interests of the client. Take from that what you will.

    3. Much of the problem emanates from the Regulator. “This is wrong, this isn’t right, so and so has been naughty etc.” and the huge amount of publicity attaching to these pronouncements. True in many cases they are perfectly justified, in others they have shot themselves in the foot; but overall if they want to achieve one of their prime objectives – fostering faith and trust in Financial Services, perhaps they need to investigate other ways.

    4. Your comments concerning independent advice almost address the issue. Put plainly the Regulator put the hurdles in place, and made the distinctions. IFAs then ‘bust their buts’ jumping the hurdles only to have been abandoned by the regulator who now prefers to fudge the issue of the different classes. There are too few journalists that actually understand (or want to understand) the difference.

    5. “…the reality of how isolated they are in terms of the support they might be able to call on “
    Being isolated is to a large extent our stock in trade. As you know the majority of firms are made up of small companies and sole traders. Modern society is isolationist. Look how many fail to vote at elections. It is in fact the majority. We can all make assumptions as to why this is, but at root politicians just do not appeal. As I said in a previous post, most of us just get our heads down and get on with the work of servicing our clients and leave the high level stuff to those who have an agenda, an axe to grind or are chasing a gong.

    I hope you find this a useful contribution to the debate.

  8. Nic Cicutti is “churning” the same old misinformation!

    IFAs do not need to regain trust – they never lost it. They are responsible for a negligible percentage of complaints compared to the unregulated banks. It is the regulators who need to regain trust.

  9. “In contrast, Keith’s view, and that of the PFS, is that it is divisions between different sections of the advice sector that are causing problems for the industry as a whole. In other words, it is the efforts of those like Gill Cardy’s IFA Centre at one extreme, or the old Adviser Alliance at the other, that risk harming the advice sector”
    Nic you are a disgrace, trying to create discord where there is none.
    “In fairness to Keith, he probably wouldn’t go that far.
    You are correct. Keith did not go that far. It is you who is unprofessional and undeserving of trust.
    You are very keen to promote disharmony between IFA Centre and Adviser Alliance. There is none, as far as I am aware.
    Gill & Alan both do their best to represent advisers. To date I am not aware of either of them promoting themselves against the other. Perhaps you have been watching too many episodes of The Apprentice, where the only way to win is to knock someone else.

  10. Trusted is what IFA’s are, even the ones that have left the industry to “get their life” back without all the FCA meddling.
    I spoke with my MP on 3 occasions each year prior to RDR and gave up.

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