Richard Bishop recently told us why he is fed up with being an adviser and incurred Nic Cicutti’s wrath in last week’s Money Marketing. Nick Bamford gave an alternative view. I am somewhere between the two.
I am not much into personal luxuries but I do allow myself a few where my business is concerned. My main luxury is that I only work for clients I like.
I exclude the ‘users’ who want my advice but don’t value it enough to pay for it, such as the client who sent me 259 emails in a year but objected when I told him he would need to pay our hourly rate if he wanted the same level of service ongoing.
I exclude the rude and obnoxious, such as the farmer who thought he could talk to me as if I was a serf, and the objectionable little oik in the stacked heels who, Alan Ladd style, verbally beat up his wife in front of me.
I also exclude the chisellers who always want a bit more for a bit less. Our charges are fair and anyone who thinks otherwise can go find a bank that deserves them. Anyone who tries to beat me down on fees is told that they are non-negotiable.
Anyone who persists is told to seek advice elsewhere. Apart from the fact that it makes my working day more agreeable there are also good practical business reasons behind this policy: If I genuinely like my clients I will always do my best for them which is good for compliance.
In ‘How to win friends and influence people’ Dale Carnegie wrote of how master magician Howard Thurston explained the secret of his success. Whilst he was a highly competent performer, so were others. His edge was his regard for his audience.
Whereas many magicians treated their audiences as suckers to be fooled, Thurston would say to himself: “I am grateful because these people these people come to see me. They make it possible to for me to make my living in a very agreeable way. I’m going to give them the very best I possibly can.”
He would never step in front of an audience before saying “I love my audience, I love my audience.” I believe in that absolutely. Never a day goes by that I am not thankful for the fact that I earn my living as my own boss, working for lovely people whom I genuinely like and for whom I feel naturally impelled to go the extra mile.
What I am fed up with is the way an over-mighty and over-intrusive regulator has made itself the centre of our business, forcing us to alter our priorities and occupying a place that only my clients should rightfully occupy. I include the FOS in this.
Our motto at West Riding is ‘Honest Advice in Plain English’. It’s on our letterhead, business cards, emails and the sign outside on the wall. It’s what we’ve tried to do from day one in all our communications, written and verbal. Right from the start of the business however I was advised by our compliance consultancy to write every letter as if it would be read by the ombudsman. Result: our communications are way too detailed.
An average investment recommendation complete with research and Key Features / Key Investor Information Document weighs in at somewhere between 500g and 750g. Never mind what’s best for the client though, the ombudsman is more important.
The latest version of the RMAR is another good example of how over mighty regulation distorts normal priorities. Mine is a small business turning over less than £200,000 pa yet we are required to record and report in minute detail what we do and how we are paid for it. The regulator clearly takes the view that everyone is suspect all the time about everything they do.
If the police required us all to fill in a half-yearly or quarterly return detailing all our activities to prove we weren’t criminals we would rightly regard it as a gross breach of civil liberties. Our regulator however can seemingly impose whatever it wishes.
That is not the mark of a free society. Neither is it the mark of a free enterprise culture to have a regulator which consistently seeks to insert itself into the relationship between a business and its clients, more often than not to create waste, confusion and mistrust. It is like being in bed with one’s partner and having Dr Ruth under the duvet giving directions.
If regulation worked well it would hardly ever be commented upon. We would hear about it when a transgressor was detected and punished. The rest of the time it would not intrude on our daily lives just as in a free society the police have minimal contact with the law abiding. Instead we hear about regulation constantly. Like the Stasi of the old East Germany it is omnipresent and consumes vast resources, but equally like the Stasi it achieves little of real value.
Thomas Jefferson wrote ‘That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.’ I commend those words to the FSA as a New Year’s Resolution with a personal plea: Please let me put my clients back at the centre of my business; it is they who belong there, not you.
Unlike Richard Bishop I am not fed up being an adviser because that is my job. I would just like to spend more time on it.
Neil Liversidge is managing director of West Riding Personal Financial Solutions