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Moore&#39s code

If you have a problem, if no one else can help – and if you can find it – maybe you can show a quality mark.

First, there were Government Catmarks, then the ABI popped up with Raising Standards quality mark thingies, now the LIA wants to join the party with a quality mark for financial advisers.

If I were an IFA, I would be breaking out the bubbly. In addition to the plethora of letters they can have after their names, for the appropriate fees, they now can be an accredited something or other. That will bring the punters in in their droves.

You can just imagine the conversation over the breakfast table. Mr and Mrs Smith are worrying about their pensions/mortgages/investments but do not know where to turn.

They have a look at that IFA Promotion website to find their local IFA and it turns up seven or eight different names. They wander down the high street and stop at Steve Jones Financial Planning.

“Oh look,” says Mr Smith, scanning the shop front, “Steve Jones has an LIA accreditation, he must be good, let&#39s go with him. He has a load of letters after his name too – even better. That is just the place to go for our Catmarked Isa from that company which has the ABI thingy.”

The use of marks of various descriptions is rapidly getting out of hand. Some of the bodies promoting them may have good intentions but the problem is that the more marks you add, the more confused consumers are likely to get.

The problem is particularly acute within the IFA industry because many punters are already none too clear about what an IFA is.

With that being the case, you might think that some sort of scheme that makes life easier for the poor consumer would not be such a bad idea.

But there are already three organisations, at the last count, offering letters, qualifications, acronyms and logos – notwithstanding the various Government and ABI letters, acronyms and logos.

What happens when Sofa or the IFP want to join the party by putting forward accreditation standards of their own?

The leaders of the IFA community often complain that theirs is a hard life and that the Government, the FSA, life insurers and fund managers are often mean to them. But how much are those leaders doing to help matters?

Does the industry really need three professional bodies and a trade body and a promotion agency which all have logos, marks, letters and acronyms?

The IFA industry has been consolidating at a rapid rate recently, mirroring the life and fund management industries.

The business climate is tough and so this makes a lot of sense. If only there were a similar motivation pushing the multitude of trade and professional bodies operating within the IFA sector. I have often heard leaders of the various IFA organisations justifying their jealously guarded independence because they “do different things”. Fine and dandy.

But is it really necessary to have so many of them? Could those “different” things not all be carried out by one or two organisations? This would enable them to cut costs, a good idea in a 1 per cent world, and reduce the considerable degree of overlap that still exists – whatever these “different things” are.

Think how powerful it would be if, for example, the IFA community were to speak with one voice in response to say, consultation documents from the Government and regulators.

And think how powerful a message would be sent to consumers if you had a single set of letters, a single set of qualifications and a single accreditation mark.

This is, of course, highly unlikely to happen because there are too many people in the world of trade and professional bodies concerned with their own interests rather than being with the interests of the IFA community they represent.

Talking of financial pressure, these organisations would have to take a hard look at themselves if the IFA community were to put them under the same sort of financial pressure to merge that it has been living with for the last few years.

If the IFA community is serious about promoting the virtues of independent financial advice, particularly with multi-ties on the way, this is one way of showing it.

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