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Journey to the core

Demand is growing fast for services to directly related advisers.

When looking at the commercial challenges ahead, the first thing to ensure is that Sesame gets the basics right. The core support services that we offer our members must enable them to run successful businesses, yet, as the Sesame business moves with changing market trends, there are two key issues that will shape our future direction.

Sesame has changed significantly in the last five years. We remain the largest network but are evolving to become a broadly-based support services provider. Supplying services to directly regulated advisers has recently become the fastest growing part of our business, with the number of advisers doubling from 1,550 to 3,100, last year alone. This reflects the trends we are seeing in the market, particularly among life and pensions IFAs. Many of these advisers have been operating in a regulated market for 17 years and are now taking the next step in their firm’s development towards the more flexible environment of direct regulation. Sesame’s role has been to support firms through this important stage, by offering a range of tailored services.

But no two businesses are the same and the comfort and support that a network offers is still the right option for many. This is particularly true of intermediaries new to regulation, such as mortgage and general insurance advisers. Sesame’s experience and track record in regulation has proved valuable in this regard and we expect much of our future growth to come from the mortgage and GI market.

Secondly, and I see this as the core mission of any commercial team, is the realisation that we must be be aware of the challenges which are affecting advisers’ daily lives. By supporting member firms and advisers when it comes to building capital value in their business, enhancing productivity of RIs, and making sense of the regulatory burdens imposed by the FSA, I believe we can turn such challenges into opportunities.

Take adviser productivity for example. We are experiencing increased member concern on how best to run a business while also providing robust advice. I was recently at a Sesame roadshow, where I saw first-hand many of the problems the modern adviser is faced with. There is clearly something wrong when advisers tell me they are turning down business because the fact-find, suitability letters and additional raft of form-filling would have made the adviser-client relationship unprofitable.

Financial advisers simply want a fair fee for a good service. We need to make professional advice accessible to everybody, while ensuring that consumers recognise and value it. People don’t expect to see their lawyer or accountant for free, so why should attitudes towards financial advisers be any different? Sesame’s brand-awareness campaign aims to promote the benefits of financial advice. Our targeted push promoting consumer education is just one of many steps that form an integral part of ensuring that consumers understand and will happily pay for the expertise that our industry offers.

Some of the newer advice models are also not all they appear to be. I have witnessed cases of providers selling loaded-premium products to give the adviser the best commission, without considering the consumers’ interests. Charging higher premiums to create higher adviser commission will eventually damage this sector, although the FSA’s Treating Customers Fairly initiative will not tolerate it. Sesame will simply not sell products that are constructed in this way, and I am proud to maintain our commitment to Sesame’s core values of openness and honesty – the rest of the industry should learn from this.

Similarly, as the FSA pursues ever improving standards, advisers are being faced with the constant challenge of looking after their customers’ needs in an environment where the burden of administration is increasing and revenues are under threat.

Unless we work harder as an industry it is likely that the concept of form-filling teachers not being able to teach could soon be applied to advisers. As the biggest support service provider in the market we appreciate the benefits of solid compliance and regulation and we understand the important role we play in turning threats into opportunities in order to help advisers run successful businesses.

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