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Nic Cicutti

An editor whose professional opinions I have always respected once advised me that, when writing a column, one should never return to the same subject three times in a row.

Which is unfortunate because three weeks into my new column here at Money Marketing, there is so much more to say about the IFA Defence Union that this is an extra- ordinarily hard piece of adv- ice to follow. Yet the advice is fundamentally sound – repetition is like warmed-up cabbage – it starts to lose its taste after a while.

So it is with a heavy heart that I am leaving this particular topic for now with the promise of coming back to it later.

The emails I have received in the wake of my past two weeks’ remarks on the IFADU, however, have set me thinking on the question of what kind of representative body financial advisers actually need.

The truth is that most of us have a mass of opposing expectations of the organisation we want to represent us.

Fundamentally, the people we look to lead us are required to be like us, reflecting all the seeming contradictory aspects in our daily lives. We want them to understand our rage and frustration and articulate it to the powers that be. But we want to be seen as calm and collected, responsible and thoughtful too.

In the years I have covered this industry as a journalist, the person who best articulated that sense of IFA anger and who could negotiate hard on behalf of his members yet was usually pragmatic enough to recognise when he was on a hiding to nothing and back off, was Garry Heath.

The trade press delighted in publishing pictures of Garry wearing boxing gloves and he was adept at playing up to his image, offering bellicose soundbites designed to make the more backwoods members of Nfifa feel that he was speaking their language.

Yet I also remember a moment when Garry had to stand up and be counted. It was at the time, back in 1993, when a series of reports had recommended that Fimbra, the advisers’ regulatory body, and Lautro, the equivalent life companies’ watchdog, should both be merged into one organisation, the PIA, alongside Imro, the fund managers’ regulator.

No problems with Lautro and Imro members, it was obvious that they would always toe the line – providers are notoriously cowardly when faced with the chill wind of authority.

But it was by no means clear that IFAs would follow suit. As those who were there at the time will remember, the mood among independent advisers was distinctly mutinous. They had a good thing going in Fimbra and there was no way some of them wanted their regulator to fold, just so they could be subsumed into another body whose initials reminded them of a foreign airline.

Some of Nfifa’s senior board members had undoubtedly encouraged that mood, it should be said. But when the crunch came, Garry went on the campaign trail, criss-crossing the UK to attend dozens of meetings aimed at persuading IFAs that they should join the PIA.

Which is why, deep down, I feel I understand David Severn. Some of my IFA friends – and not a few journalists – find it incomprehensible that, barely three months into his period of tenure as director general at Aifa, he sometimes sounds like a crusty 1980s-style adviser practising in a two-bit market town populated by inbreds.

When I read his latest comments in this magazine and elsewhere, I wonder how someone who spent so many happy years as a regulator could have gone native so quickly.

The truth is that David, like any trade association boss, has a difficult balancing act. He wants to retain old members and recruit new ones while also appealing to the larger, more “ser- ious” and responsible firms that constitute the IFA community, not forgetting the providers which still support Aifa financially.

He is also trying to enlarge Aifa’s potential membership pool, pushing to be allowed to recruit not just multi-tied agents but also other sections of the financial services community.

This is an enormously challenging task. The differences between some IFAs, large and small for example, are much greater than those between many IFAs and multi-ties or even mortgage brokers.

Trying to please every element of your audience at the same time is a bit like Michael Howard, the Tory leader, telling us that Tony Blair lied when it came to making up a good reason for invading Iraq while also averring that he would have taken exactly the same decision to invade as Blair did. Sometimes you simply cannot square the circle.

That is why I have always been deeply suspicious of “dog whistle” politics – far better to put forward an argument and try to persuade your audience to follow you than to appeal to their base instincts and get their backing, only for them to desert you when they realise you do not match their expectations.

Some of my IFA contacts, to whom I have voiced similar arguments in the past year or two, profess to be amazed at my naivety. They claim never to have heard of a tactic where you simply tell things the way you see them. They tell me I do not understand the way the real world works.

Piqued by their dismissive attitudes, I recently did some research and finally found a word that encapsulates my proposed approach to representing members and running a trade body. That word is leadership.


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