This week I have found myself thinking about Neil Liversidge, the big boss at West Riding Financial Solutions. Yes, I know, it is a weird way to start a column.
What prompted it was two things: first, there was the mainly positive reaction from many Money Marketing readers to my comments last week, in which I argued Pimfa’s call for unregulated investments to be excluded from Financial Services Compensation Scheme coverage was a huge mistake.
Among those posting under the online version of my column, there was a terse observation from Neil himself: “As noted, payouts are dictated on the grounds that the advice, not the product, is regulated. That’s why we’ll all get milked when idiot ‘advisers’ start putting little old ladies into peer-to-peer lending Isas.”
The second prompt was a job advert posted on Facebook by, yes, Neil Liversidge of all people. Basically, he is looking for a trainee administrator in his Castleford office. In Neil’s inimitable style, he promises generous pay and conditions, and great long-term career prospects to a successful applicant.
If you get the job, however, Neil says he expects: “First-class attendance and timekeeping. We don’t keep people who are habitually late/lazy/clock-watchers/early leavers and/or who let the side down. I work hard and long hours myself and I absolutely do not tolerate layabouts.”
What also fascinated me about the ad – and has struck me about Neil and many other advisers I have met and socialised with in the past 25 years or more – is the very muscular approach about what they feel is right and wrong, both in their dealings with clients and the world at large.
There is a strong no-nonsense sense of justice there: they do the right thing for people and expect others to do the same. I might baulk at some of Neil’s other political views but I recognise an underlying ideology of fairness in his overall approach to issues in general and the financial services community he operates within, in particular. This may shock some but I also happen to believe such an approach is common among many financial advisers, though not all.
I suspect this approach is also what guided Neil and others either into taking an active interest in trade body activism or becoming powerful advocates for advisers more generally.
But that also leaves me asking myself: if their views are so prevalent within the “lower levels” of the industry, how is it that they appear to have so little traction the higher up the echelons of power you go?
How is it possible, for example, that Pimfa fails to acknowledge that the reason why people end up with duff products like unregulated collective investment schemes is often because of poor advice?
If you simply held such a disgracefully anti-consumerist view that would be bad enough. But in Pimfa’s case, it actually wants to exclude people who were mis-advised to invest in a Ucis from receiving redress by the FSCS. To paraphrase Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood, that is simply un-be-lievable.
So how is it that trade bodies end up reflecting views that do not chime with the underlying sense of equity – defined as being fair and impartial – which many of their members hold?
I suspect it is for several inter-connected reasons. One of them is that trade bodies like Pimfa are isolated – and insulated – from the world at large. Their top bods pinball around from members’ conferences to industry seminars, from lobbying meetings with civil servants and regulators to evening drinks with politicians and chief executive dinners.
Most of their dealings are in London, away from the hurly-burly of “real” life. The 2015-2016 annual report is quite instructive here: almost 50 per cent of all Pimfa regional events were in London, with the Midlands garnering 3.9 per cent, less than the Channel Islands at 5.9 per cent. The North-East and North-West of England limped in at 7.8 and 9.8 per cent respectively.
In that cloistered environment, it becomes easier to believe it is impossible for someone to be bamboozled by an adviser into taking out the wrong product. More dangerously, it becomes possible to argue that, if clients do buy the wrong product, it is always their fault and they should receive no compensation as a result. Any sense of wider moral fairness that Neil and so many like-minded advisers believe in is excluded.
In total contrast, I believe that, whether they like it or not, trade bodies representing advisers are part of a wider community which includes consumers and those – like Which? or Citizens’ Advice – who speak up for them.
As much as the occasional intrusions from regulators and politicians, it is the interaction of advisers with that community, plus some scrutiny from the media (some of it ignorant, some absolutely superb), that helps keep the industry on its toes.
Which leaves me with two final thoughts. One is that we need more people like Neil Liversidge to speak out in support of ordinary consumers. The second is aimed at Pimfa: go out into the real world, talk to consumers and see what they make of your arguments. You might be in for a shock.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org