A long time ago, when I was cons-idering a career in journalism, the traditional entry route into the industry for most budding reporters was via a local newspaper.
Generally after A levels, you signed up to do your indentures, a two or three year apprenticeship interspersed by and concluded with a series of exams set by the National Council for Training in Journalism, at the end of which you qualified as a senior reporter.
I mention all this by way of a long-winded introduction to an issue that appears to trouble one or two readers, who have written emails to me in the past week – why is it that someone like me can pontificate all day, yet somehow has no need to obtain any qualifications?
The answer is that we do. Quite apart from NCTJ qualifications, around 8,000 students currently attend a proliferation of university media courses around the UK, most of which do not just teach media theory but also offer practical training for those who want to join the profession.
Others, myself included, have attended postgraduate journalism courses, which require further exams.
Such a reply will not satisfy those who would like to see financial journalists obtain the same qualifications they do.
I do not have any problem with journalists who want to pass financial advice exams but there are a number of points worth noting. The first is that this obsession about journalists obtaining qualifications relating to the industry they write about is unique to financial services. No one asks transport corres-pondents if they have piloted a plane or learnt to drive a train, football writers are never asked if they took their coaching badges before pontificating about Manchester United’s team selection.
Which is why in the near 20 years that I have covered the financial services industry in general and personal finance in particular, what has always amazed me is the crass way that some advisers try to deflect their own academic inadequacies by demanding that those who comment on their work should pass the rather minor qualifications they would rather not obtain themselves.
My second point is that advisers who feel all journalists should sit the same exams as they do confuse the different roles of scribes and financial advisers.
A journalist tries to bring together the opinions of so-called experts and write about them vaguely coherently. He or she may offer an opinion from time to time but any comments are always understood to be strictly those of the writer or broadcaster and they are never aimed at individual readers or viewers.
An IFA, by contrast, sits opposite a client who is paying him or her for advice that will, in all probability, affect the person’s financial future. The advice is supposedly tailored to the needs of that individual and is being given precisely because the adviser wants the client to take a specific course of action. It also results directly in a payment, either by commission or a fee.
It makes complete sense for the adviser to be required to demonstrate a proficiency in the subject he or she is discussing with the client, particularly if they earn money from that specific advice given.
This already ridiculous attempt to establish some pretend parity between journalists and advisers reached its nadir last week, with the publication of a letter in Money Marketing asking why it was that while a consumer can make a needless complaint about IFAs to the Financial Ombudsman, a journalist apparently gets away scot-free.
That was the general tenor of a letter to Money Marketing, proposing the setting up of a Journalists’ Monitoring Authority, whereby “any articles not properly researched will incur heavy fines.”
It is not clear precisely what the author means by “not properly researched” or whether such a general stricture would apply not just to journalists but also to financial advisers. Right now, a complaint to the FOS generally involves an allegation of poor advice as a consequence of which the client has lost out financially.
Lack of research in and of itself is not generally considered sufficient grounds for a complaint, which is probably just as well for some IFAs whose ill-prepared and barely legible advice plans I have seen.
Some of the proposals made were obvious cut-and-paste jobs based on the latest circulars from fund managers and insurance companies.
Luckily, their clients mostly chucked them in the bin – thereby not suffering any financial detriment and, therefore, not generating further complaints to the FOS.
Which is why my own question is not so much why journalists ought to have IFA-style qualifications but whether advisers should be required to learn to write in semi-intelligent English. Not even GCSE-level English, mind, 11-Plus would do for a start.
<B>Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org