There is a lot of talk about transparency in the post-RDR world (or the lack thereof, despite the regulator’s best efforts). But among advisers, less attention is paid to the behind the scenes discussions held in the corridors of power: the murky world of financial services lobbying.
Murky not because the influence wielded by the big firms is necessarily a concern, but the process is not transparent enough to see exactly which organisations are pulling the strings.
Money Marketing has pored over last year’s ministerial diaries and those of senior regulators as much as possible to glean who is meeting who and for what purpose – but there is only so much that is available on public record. It has been suggested that what is a matter of a public record is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of meetings that actually go on between the Government, the regulator, and financial services firms.
There are moves to make the lobbying process a bit less opaque, both in the UK and Europe. But the UK effort, the Transparency in Lobbying Act, has already been branded a laughing stock by industry insiders who say the regulations do not go far enough. Will Europe’s attempts to open up this process fare any better?
Then there are the numbers themselves. While it may be expected that providers lobby harder than advisers due to deeper pockets, the figures lay bare the stark contrast between the two. Last year, the Association of British Insurers met with the Treasury eight times, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills five times, the FCA three times and the Department for Work and Pensions nine times.
And Apfa? It met with FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley a total of two times during the same period.
There are those (mainly firms, it has to be said, that are lobbyists themselves) who say lobbying has a crucial role to play in the democratic process. But the level of number crunching carried out by Money Marketing shows that clarity on the process is quite hard to come by.
Apfa argues it lobbies for adviser interests in other ways beyond formal recorded meetings. That is as may be. But perhaps the trade body’s interaction with the regulator reflects some adviser attitudes overall. In order to influence those at the top, and bring about real change, individual advisers need to engage in consultations and do what they can on the lobbying front.
Otherwise, the providers might just beat them to it.
Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing – follow her on Twitter here