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Mike Fosberry

Personal Finance Society president and Smith & Williamson national head of financial services believes IFAs should be regarded as a professional no different from a lawyer or an accountant and as RDR looms, he believes he can help seize this crucial time of change to help shed the sector’s industry mantle once and for all. Interview by Lee Jones

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He might be half way through his presidency, but Personal Finance Society president Mike Fosberry says there is still a lot more for him to do to help turn the IFA industry into a profession.

Fosberry, who is also national head of financial services for Smith & Williamson, became PFS president in November 2009. In his first address in the role he stressed his desire to help the IFA sector lose the mantle of industry and bring it up to more professional standards.

“I have always been passionate about this idea of professionalism. The IFA community has had unwarranted bad press and there is no reason why the adviser should not be viewed in the same way as the lawyer or the accountant because we add value to our client’s affairs. That is why I got involved with the PFS,” he says.

Fosberry began his career straight out of school at a “very staid” City investment firm before moving to Abbey Life.

“It was very different, new and exciting because it was an aggressive marketing-based organisation that was a change from the conservative investment background I had come from. Dealing with intermediaries was entertaining and it gave me an insight into the IFA space.”

As a result, Fosberry decided to move into the intermediary arena and joined Chesham Hill, where he became a financial planner. It was here that he learned many of the skills he says have made him a better IFA.

He says: “Everyone in life needs mentors and my three managers at Chesham Hill were certainly great mentors to me in terms of their different skills. One was very corporate-focused, allowing me to get into SSAS when they first began, the second was professional and good at the whole client-care space. The third guy was very good at selling.

“Sometimes we make life too complicated. That taught me at an early stage in my career that I needed to deliver a message my clients would understand.”

Fosberry eventually joined Smith & Williamson to set up its IFA arm and has remained there for nearly 30 years: “I had friends who had gone off to set up IFA businesses associated with accountancy practices but they found it difficult because they were treated like a second or third-rate citizens. I chose S&W because although it is an accountancy firm, when I joined the partner was a fund expert and it was really multi-disciplined.”

One of the biggest shocks for Fosberry upon joining such a practice was that of a fee-based remuneration system. “The first few months were difficult for me and I think it probably took me a year to feel wholly comfortable with the fee structure. That comes in being confident in talking to clients about fees and how you are going to charge for your services.”

Fosberry was approached by the PFS in 2007 and says he was chosen due to his background in a large practitioner: “They wanted the board to be representative of the different bodies within their overall membership and I think we have a very balanced board now. That will play a key role in the PFS’s future.”

Fosberry says he feels he has joined PFS at an important time, with the retail distribution review around the corner, and says part of his remit has been to help professionalise the sector.

“We are closer to being a profession rather than an industry and in my time as president I have heard more people referring to it as a profession. Industry was something that was delivered by the product providers driving the market.”

He says this positive change will be accelerated by the number of chartered advisers coming through the Chartered Insurance Institute, which he says will top 6,000 by 2012.

Fosberry has little time for those advisers who are opposed to the RDR: “There are people who buried their head in the sand, hoping a new Government would come in and scrap the FSA and RDR, but that is not going to happen.

“I also am against people saying they do not have time for exams. My view is that they should look at what their clients expect of them and qualifications are the cornerstone of professionalism.”

Fosberry says that after RDR he sees a UK financial advice pyramid, with professionally qualified IFAs at the top and generic advisers at the bottom. But he says the FSA must act now so as not to alienate a large part of the population.

“There has to be a layer of advice for those who do not want to pay fees, which will be commission-based. I do not know how we got to where we are with the RDR because the main point of it, as I understood, was to try and drive advice down through the population rather than being concentrated on the top-end.

“The current solutions do not satisfy that. They have to solve this because it is key from the point of view of the economic health of the nation.”
Fosberry now has around five months as president and hopes advisers as well as the regulator iron out the creases in that time and become more RDR-ready. He is confident that can happen and that it will make the profession an attractive one for future advisers.

“Younger advisers see this as a long-term profession and career and I think they are absolutely right. There might be an attrition of IFA numbers in the short-term but this will become a profession with reduced competition and an increasing number of clients. I would say to anyone that they should look at financial planning where they can develop a long-term career.”

Born: India, 1952
Lives: Denham
Education: St Ignatius College
Career: 1982-present: national head of financial services, Smith & Williamson; 1975-82: financial planning consultant, Chesham Hill; 1973-75: office manager, Abbey Life; 1970-75: investment administrator, National Mutual of Australasia
Likes: Sport, Tottenham Hotspur
Dislikes: I don’t have any
Drives: Mercedes C280
Book: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
Film: As Good as it Gets
Album: Temptations’ Greatest Hits – I’m a Motown man
Career ambition: To get our financial services division to a post-RDR stage and to remain profitable
Life ambition: To spend more time with my family
If I wasn’t doing this…I would be playing cricket for England

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Comments

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  1. What bad press have IFAs had? Has it only been ‘unprofessional advisers in the firing line?

    Is he attempting to convince me that lawyers and accountants don’t have bad press?

    I think he needs to do some resaarch before he gets out his broad brush and tar.

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