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John Barrass on Apcims’ rebrand and the problem with defining independence

Apcims deputy chief executive says the current definition of independence means many of its members are unable to use the label. Interview by Amanda Newman Smith

After more than six years as deputy chief executive at the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers, John Barrass could find himself helping to run a brand new organisation in the form of the Wealth Management Association.

The WMA is the proposed new name for Apcims. Assuming that the trade association’s members approve the rebrand on October 1, it will be business as usual for Barrass and his staff despite the new name.

“We will retain all our existing functions. We will continue to have brokerage, advice and discretionary management functions, but more in the context of wealth management,” says Barrass.

Barrass says Apcims is responding to pressure from its members to review its name to better reflect the changing nature of its membership as it now represents the wealth management industry, not just investment managers and stockbrokers.

“Our membership has changed a bit, with more and more of the industry moving towards discretionary management. It’s hard to distinguish between discretionary management and wealth management – I don’t think you can.

“Research from the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation found that there is a movement for trade associations to be defined by what they do. This came to a head and we began to respond internally. The name change is really the end of the process rather than the start.”

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Barrass hopes the Financial Conduct Authority, which recently set up a Wealth Management and Private Banking Department, will look carefully at whether a different type of regulation should apply to wealth management. As a fomer employee of the FSA, he has a keen eye for developments at the new regulators.

He says: “We hope the FCA looks at what gives us the need for separate regulation. What has applied to advisers in relation to commission has not applied to us because our members always charged fees but something else could apply to us.

“One of the things that has come out of our talks with the FCA is that we should be good at suitability, which could be one of the differences in regulatory terms.”

The RDR’s upgrade of exam requirements to level four has meant people coming in to wealth management have needed to go up a level. But Barrass says the RDR’s creation of independent and restricted labels is the real bone of contention among Apcims members.

“We think the label of independent will need to be reviewed by the FCA. To be independent, advisers have to deal with retail products like life and pensions – but as our members don’t do that, they can’t describe themselves as independent. Some members feel at a disadvantage if they have to describe themselves as restricted because they think it sounds bad.

“Other firms can call themselves independent just because they also deal with life and pensions – we are annoyed by this. If our members put together a portfolio of assets including equities and bonds, it doesn’t count because these are not packaged equities and bonds. So even though are members are not tied to any firm and they are paid fees, they are not going to part of the definition for independent.”

Barrass points out that there is a potential conflict between the UK definition of independence and the European definition of the term within MIFID II, but the final legislation will not be implemented until 2016.

Barrass has spent much of his career at the point where financial services and international politics collide. The former UK diplomat gravitated towards current affairs from an early age within a family that did not shy away from politics.

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“l was good at current affairs – I was interested in how things worked; how the State worked, how the economy worked. We had political discussions in the family. My parents were wartime people; my father had been on the front line in North Africa. He was a political man who believed in protecting the freedom that people had died for,” he says.

As a teenager Barrass realised he could fulfil his childhood ambition to travel by joining the diplomatic service. He studied economics and social science at Cambridge then embarked on the Russian masters degree at the University of Essex. This secured his entry to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was looking for people to work in Soviet and East European affairs.

After almost 12 years working in government, Barrass made what he describes as natural progression to the world of financial regulation. “The transition was good. The policy work I did in government  meant I could work in the same kind of role in regulation,” says Barrass.

Roles with the Securities and Investments Board and the Financial Services Authority followed. Then in 2001 Barrass became the first European employee of the CFA Institute, the American professional body for Chartered Financial Analysts. He spent five and a half years there but decided to leave because the travel involved did not suit having a young family.

Thorough a lucky coincidence, he took a call from Guy Sears, now a director at the Investment Management Association. Sears told Barrass that he was about to leave Apcims, so Barrass put himself forward and got the job.

At Apcims, Barrass has witnessed different approaches to financial regulation within Europe. He says the former Irish politician and European commissioner for internal market and services Charlie McCreevey did not like excessive legislation. But with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the mood started to change in Brussels and its reaction was to get a grip on the industry through legislation.

“There was a change of commissioner in 2010 with the appointment of Michel Barnier. Since then there has been a lot of legislation designed to rein back financial services and gain political control over it,” says Barrass.

Barrass believes Europe will play a big part in establishing London as one of the biggest centres for wealth management. “For all its problems, Europe is a wonderful continent with an enormous amount of assets to invest and London is becoming one of the world’s key centres for wealth management. In becoming global it will attract a lot of European business that will set up offices here.”

Born: South Kensington

Lives: London

Education: Dauntsey’s School, Wiltshire; Cambridge University BA (Economics and Social Sciences); Essex University MA (Russian Language and Soviet Economy, School of Comparative Studies)

Career: 2007-to date: deputy chief executive, Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers; 2001-2007: head of CFA Institute Centre for Financial Market Integrity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; 1998-2001: head of international and EU policy co-ordination, capital markets, Financial Services Authority; 1991-1998: head of international relations, Securities and Investments Board; 1990: KPMG; 1998-1990: KPMG; 1976-1988: HM Diplomatic Service

Likes: Theatre/amateur dramatics, culture (film, music, art), books, sports/sailing, entertaining/conversation/nice people, DIY, travel

Dislikes: Violence, aggression, stupidity, thoughtlessness

Drives: Mazda MX5, Ford Galaxy

Book: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Film: Les Enfants du Paradis

Album: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

Career ambition: To win the battle for good ideas

Life ambition: To spread a little happiness where I can

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…. On a stage declaiming

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