Martin Bamford: Advisers must face up to the Paul Lewis challenge


It is easy in this profession to get upset by the little things. Sometimes it feels like every public comment made is a personal attack on our character, behaviour and professional judgement. For example, when we read the latest Money Marketing columns by Paul Lewis and Nic Cicutti, it is only natural to take offence at the merest hint of a perceived sleight.

So when Paul attempts to construct an analogy about washing machines and the cost of advice, some advisers get very upset. And when Nic suggests some consumer champions are better trusted than some financial advisers, it upsets some of the latter to an even greater extent.

I think it is because we care. In my experience, most advisers care passionately not only about their clients but also about their reputation, and the reputation of the retail financial services sector more generally. An attack on one is an attack on all of us, as far as they are concerned.

I care too. Family aside, nothing is more important to me than my professional reputation or the reputation of my business.

None of us work as hard as we do to ever feel entirely comfortable when someone is critical of our profession. It is therefore only natural to feel protective about your identity.

At the same time, however, I think there is a risk that taking offence has become a national pastime.

A notable example of this is that vile creature Katie Hopkins, who appears to exist to incite offence in others. As much as I despise the woman – and have in fact taken steps to block any mention of her from my social media feeds – she tweeted something quite important earlier this year. Neatly inserted between her usual xenophobia and general horridness, Hopkins said: “Offence is not something I give. It is something you choose to take. You need to make better decisions. Own your problems.” I rather liked that.

So when Paul Lewis delivers a tortuous analogy that offends, is he giving offence or are you choosing to take it? When you read Nic Cicutti’s latest column, what decisions are you making?

When the retail financial services sector comes in for more criticism about an aspect of what we do collectively, or at least what elements of our community choose to do, are we owning our problems? Or are we simply taking offence and attempting to shrug them off?

We should not live in denial about the historic challenges created by advisers around trust and reputation. In some cases, these continue to store up significant problems for the future.

So rather than automatically taking offence, perhaps we need to listen to what Paul, Nic and others have to say. Instead of getting upset at perceived sleights, instead we need to recognise these perceptions exist and than actually do something about them.

Martin Bamford is managing director of Informed Choice