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Knowledge is the key

When I was first app-roached to take on the job of communications director for the LIA, what they wanted me to do was to guide them towards getting recognition as a regulator.

Although this was clearly inappropriate – Fimbra had already been identified as the body – the LIA had a good many ideas which, if taken on board, would have improved the reputation of advisers consid-erably. For example, the LIA licensing initiative, laun-ched in 1982, contained much food for thought and indeed possible action.

As it happened, the LIA ideas were not to be adopted in quite the form they were put forward but the residual legacy persisted over the ensuing years right up until today in the form of the registered individuals/approved persons list, the training and competence requirements and the code of practice for individuals.

It was brave of the LIA in the 1980s to pioneer industry qualifications as a condition of being allowed to enter the business. The consumer lobby at the time maintained that this approach was a “barrier to entry” and adopted the paradoxical position that trying to make people better at what they did could reduce competition. As if regulation in itself does not reduce competition but in favour of the customer. Surely, that is the whole idea of professional body rules – to restrict the activities of the unethical or ignorant so the public get a prof-essional service.

I find it curious that “free market” sentiments espoused by bodies such as the OFT and, in the 1980s, Which?, are presented by some advisers as a reason for not moving the profession to a higher level of performance recognised by chartered status.

Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people who have responded to the move to chartered financial planner are very positive about it. But there is this undertow of those who believe it is an elitist suggestion.

Passing over the thought that there is nothing wrong in the formation of a natural elite of people who excel, neither the CII nor the PFS has ever said that everybody should attain chartered financial planner status. What we have said is that everyone should be “fit for purpose”. For customers who need an advanced financial planning service, it would be a good idea to approach a chartered financial planner. But, at whatever level, what we are looking for, to use the term prevalent among London taxi drivers, is people who have the knowledge and not only pass an exam in it but keep it up to date and apply it.

Brian Steeples, in his presidential address at the recent PFS conference, highlighted the fact that we intend to provide some additional tools to help establish standards of financial planning and we will be conducting an evaluation of those tools which are available to see what should be recommended. This is intended to be a help to members rather than be a set of additional burdens. More of this in the future.

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