One of the intriguing behavioural aspects of many online comments at the foot of columns in this publication and elsewhere is the way so many of them tend to follow a cue set by the first few posts responding to the article itself.
What tends to happen is if someone says a columnist has made some “good” points, others follow. The reverse also happens: one or two initial negative responses set the tone for the others.
Ah yes, someone will say, but given how online commentary involves the collective response of a common audience – Guardian or Telegraph readers, say – is it not more likely that reactions to that article will tend to be similar?
My own experience suggests if the first people below the line are negative about what you have said, even if the comment piece actually validates and supports the views of its readership, they will often set the tone for those who follow them.
For an example, take a look at Compliance and Training Solutions director Melony Holman. Melony has been involved in the compliance field for more than 15 years. In an article published online, Mel looked at the compliance consequences for advisers of the pension freedoms announced in last year’s Budget.
She points out by taking cash early, the client might not only set themselves up for a larger-than-expected tax bill but their decision could massively reduce the long-term income they and their family have to live on in old age.
Mel’s piece sets out out the FCA’s position on the issue, where advisers are expected to take sustainability of income into account where they advise clients to take lump sums from their pension.
The FCA handbook states that any advice should take into account a client’s investment objectives, his or her need for tax-free cash and state of health as well as current and future cash requirements, existing pension assets and, assuming this is one of several plans, the relative importance of this one plan, given the client’s other financial circumstances.
Mel then advises on the compliance audit trail necessary to demonstrate how the adviser arrived at any advice given and its client suitability. She warns against assuming that simply accepting a client’s decision to take the execution-only route is the answer to the issue: “If there is any hint of advice or research being conducted for the client, then this is not execution-only.”
What I liked about Mel’s piece is her advice on what should be done about a client who insists on a particular course of action, against all advice. Again, she argues the adviser should make clear his or her view in writing and ask the client to acknowledge this, also in writing.
What I found most interesting in Mel’s original piece is a throwaway comment at the end of her piece: “It is important to remember that the adviser can refuse to work with a client on an execution-only or insistent client basis if they believe the client is taking the wrong course for their circumstances.”
For many advisers, telling a client they may have worked with for decades that they cannot in good conscience carry out their instruction because they think it will cause them long-term harm is probably the most difficult thing imaginable.
It carries with it not only the prospect of that client walking away from the business and taking a large chunk of your income with them. It also fractures, perhaps forever, what is likely to have become a friendship developed over many years of working together.
Yet it may sometimes be necessary for you to stand firm, regardless of consequences to you, if you believe your client’s decision is fundamentally wrong.
All interesting philosophical comments – and I would be interested to know what other people’s views are as to how they might manage their relationship with clients at such a difficult time.
But almost as interesting are the responses, one of which reads: “And you get paid for this sort of [blindingly] obvious stuff do you Mel? Nice.” Actually, my guess is she didn’t get paid for it, but let that one pass.
Not that it stops another person agreeing two posts later: “I prefer your more succinct reply to my own. Which also wasted less of your day.” A couple of posts below that we get: “Mel, stop trying to sell your copper bottomed compliance consultancy. Stop attempting to scare us, funnily enough we know how to do the job.”
It takes others, including Julian Stevens, a denizen of this parish, to return to the key argument. Julian writes: “If a client is insistent upon going against your advice, walk away.”
Both Julian and several other posts make valid comments, looking at Mel’s piece from both a regulatory as well as a compliance angle. But what stands out is the snide attacks on a professional trying to offer advice and generate a debate on an issue many advisers are likely to face in the coming months.
Some advisers really can’t handle a proper discussion, can they?
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org