I FA network Berkeley Wodehouse Associates' chief executive Malcolm Streatfield is in a positive frame of mind as he ponders the future for IFAs and networks.
But he takes time to mourn the demise of the Man from the Pru, having been with the company when it had a salesforce of 10,000 in the 1980s.
Streatfield's own career has gone from strength to strength since those days and he is hoping this continues as he gears up for Berkeley Wodehouse Associates' restructuring as a plc in April.
Streatfield started out in branch banking with the Midland in 1976 before moving to the Pru in 1983. Five years later, he moved back to banking when he joined Midland's financial services division. He worked his way up to area manager before deciding in 1993 that he wanted to immerse himself in the world of IFA networks.
He spent seven years with Burns Anderson, including three as commercial director, before joining Berkeley Wodehouse last April with the brief of leading it smoothly along the path to plc status.
Berkeley Wodehouse Associates was set up in 1992 by Val and Michael Gaze. Michael had been a member of PPA Independent Network before becoming disillusioned.
The Gazes started Berkeley Wodehouse in their home and it has now grown to 210 registered individuals, with the head office in Chudleigh, Devon. Michael, who is now in his 60s, wanted to create the structure for the company to grow and appointed Streatfield as managing director.
Streatfield says: “A strong board is now in place. We appointed our first non-executive director, Philip Whitehead, in September. He will take up his role in April when we become a plc.”
Whitehead was chief executive at Burns Anderson and he and Streatfield go back a long way, with Whitehead having been Streatfield's boss at the Midland. Whitehead had retired in his early 50s but could not resist taking up the offer from Berkeley Wodehouse.
The network has also appointed a new head of compliance, Tim Barton, who has been a compliance officer at Burns Anderson for the last five years.
From April, when Berkeley Wodehouse becomes a plc, it will be split into two separate companies to give IFAs the choice of joining a full network or opting for consultancy services.
Berkeley Wodehouse Associates Limited will be the traditional network while Berkeley Wodehouse Associates Link is for IFAs who are authorised directly by the PIA and want ad hoc help and assistance.
Streatfield says: “IFAs will benefit from our tried and tested training and compliance. The network has a first-class compliance record, having never been sanctioned by the regulator, and we want to make this service available to others who are not in the network.”
Streatfield believes members are happy with the restructuring as they are confident the network will continue to provide personal service and will not grow too quickly at the expense of losing its personal touch.
Looking beyond his own business to the general IFA marketplace, Streatfield is pleased that public awareness of IFAs has increased in the last few years. He believes this is due mainly to IFAs organising themselves more effectively and to work by bodies such as IFAP and Aifa.
But when it comes to the topic of the planned changes to polarisation, Streatfield's reaction is much less positive. He derides the FSA for bandying about the figure that 20 per cent of the population do not understand what polarisation is. He prefers to focus on the fact that 80 per cent do.
Streatfield is forthright in his condemnation. He says: “The changes to polarisation will cause untold confusion and do nothing to enhance customer choice.”
Looking to another new initiative, the launch of stakeholder in April, he is less than confident it will succeed. “It will take more than advertising and increased awareness for the target customer base of the likes of stakeholder to buy financial services. People would rather look at page three than a pension ad.”
He believes the Government should look back to Winston Churchill's comments in 1943 about “national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave” which he believes are still true today.
He is also worried that Catmarked products could make people concentrate too much on the cost of financial products rather than their quality or suitability.