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Nic Cicutti: Facing up to the lack of trust in advisers

Nic Cicutti

Many years ago, I remember walking home in the freezing cold at the end of a nursing shift. It was well after 9pm, our hospital was miles from anywhere and a delayed handover meant I had missed both a lift and the last bus into town.

As I was trudging down the hill, a taxi stopped just ahead of me: “Do you want a lift, mate?”, the driver asked. “No, you’re alright, I don’t have the money for a cab, thanks anyway.”

“You’re on your way home from the hospital, haven’t you? I’ve just given someone a lift there. Hop in, this one’s on me. You lot do a fantastic job, it’s time we gave you back a bit of what you do for everyone else.”

A fantastic job? This was the early 1980s. We were looking after patients in a highly rule-bound environment, with endless petty cruelties and poor care inflicted daily on vulnerable individuals, most of whom should never have been in a hospital like ours in the first place. So-called “thump therapy” from unqualified staff and the “liquid cosh” from my nurse colleagues were common practices on many wards.

Yet here was a guy who thought we were doing a great job, who looked at us as dedicated and devoted to our patients. He had no idea whatsoever what went on behind closed doors.

I thought of the taxi driver recently, after receiving an insistent email from an adviser the other day. I will not name him: suffice to say that he is based in Sussex. The adviser’s initial message was sent in late March, in response to a column about the Financial Advice Market Review.

He took issue with my view that the FAMR’s central problem was a failure to address the issue of a lack of trust between prospective clients and advisers. Without it, the former were highly unlikely to attempt to contact the latter.

My correspondent wrote: “I have a relatively small loyal client bank and I can confidently say trust is the bond that keeps the relationship going.

“Where I believe trust is lacking is with the populace who either have had a bad experience of poor advice or were missold in the past, or those who have never had an IFA. I wonder if the latter group, probably the vast majority, have been put off from seeking an IFA because they believe the well-worn narrative from journalists like yourself, politicians and the consumer lobby that IFAs are not trustworthy and should be given a very wide berth.

“They have been dissuaded from seeking advice. Like a child who has pre-judged a new food, they have not had an opportunity to try and test a number of IFAs and see whether they can find one they like and can trust.”

My correspondent was eager for me to say whether I believed that advisers were truly trusted by their clients. If that were true, my job was now to make good, by correcting the misconceptions engendered by my colleagues and myself.

In the past few days we have had further email contact – and I am afraid to say the discussion has not really moved forward very far. The reality is I have no idea whether the “bad experiences” my interlocutor refers to apply to the “vast majority” or a minority of the UK population.

I do know if you include families of the many victims of every other dodgy financial incident over the past two decades, we are talking about many millions of people in the UK.

A study in 2013 by a firm called Dimensional Research found that 95 per cent of customers shared their bad experiences of service and 54 per cent did so with five or more people. Moreover, almost 40 per cent would refuse to avoid vendors they had a negative experience with for longer than two years.

In other words, it hardly needs the politicians, the media or regulators to lead to a lack of trust among the population. We reflect that lack of trust back to the industry, not the other way round.

Ah yes, my interlocutor would respond, but how is it that so many existing clients of IFAs trust their advisers? Does this not prove the relationship between advisers and clients is much better than doomsayers like myself are apt to make out?

Let me take you back to the start of this column and try to bring it up to date. I have previously mentioned an NHS investigator who reviews serious incidents for his trust.

Time after time, he tells me, his reviews identify serious omissions in the care received by patients, to the point where – in a few cases – they actually die as a result of those errors. Yet the patients themselves, and their carers, are so ignorant of the service they should have received that gratitude shines out of every statement they make.

The same imbalance of knowledge and understanding applies just as much to advisers and their clients. Most consumers do not know what to expect from their advisers, so it is hardly surprising they trust them, just like my cabbie believed in me many years ago. It is only when things go wrong that the penny drops – and trust shatters, never to be rebuilt again.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at



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There are 11 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. “We were looking after patients in a highly rule-bound environment, with endless petty cruelties and poor care inflicted daily on vulnerable individuals, most of whom should never have been in a hospital like ours in the first place. So-called “thump therapy” from unqualified staff and the “liquid cosh” from my nurse colleagues were common practices on many wards.”

    Good lord, when MM gets bored of Nic there’s a job for him as columnist at the Nursing Times. I don’t see how a ward can be both rife with illegal physical assault on patients and “highly rule-bound”, but never mind, think of the clicks and comments from outraged nurses shouting “speak for yourself”.

    Anyway, he seems to fail to recognise that his story supports the point of his unnamed correspondent. If people can falsely believe that nurses are saints even if the actual standard of nursing is poor, then equally people can falsely believe that IFAs are crooks even if the actual standard of independent financial advice is excellent. Who is responsible for the disconnect beteen public opinion and reality? Partly the man in the pub for regurgitating memes about crooked salesmen and casino bankers whenever the topic comes up. But mostly journalists who affect a far wider audience when they print misleading articles.

  2. Strangely, some of us don’t trust journalists either because history has taught us they’re quite happy to bend the truth if it suits them. I’m sure I read somewhere there is a saying; don’t let facts come between you and a good story. Who wrote that? Pot – Kettle, comes to mind.

  3. Back to this old subject again. It is now rather threadbare. Sure there are those who don’t trust (or say they don’t trust) advisers. But many of us who work or have worked in the business have a completely different view and it seems we live in a completely different universe.

    I can see larger firms having a problem for all sorts of reasons, but the small outfit has probably had clients for 5,10,15,20 or more years. I know that I never had to ‘prospect’ in the conventional way and that in 25 years I lost less than 5 clients. I know that my experience is by no means unique.

    The problem lies (and always has done) when advisers ‘force feed, clients and badger members of the public to become clients in the first place. Hardly surprising that this type of model generates mistrust and antipathy. There are plenty out there who want to seek out advice and having done so trust their advisers implicitly. The upshot is don’t try to convert the great unwashed.

    (Oh and I also know plenty of people who would sacrifice almost anything to avoid the NHS and would far rather rely on private treatment. That doesn’t tar the whole NHS either, just as those who don’t trust advisers don’t make it the general rule)

  4. Anthony John Etkind 21st April 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Nic, I really don’t think that the central issue is a lack of trust. More likely that is an excuse, a justification for lack of action. Consumers don’t trust banks, estate agents or even journalists, but they still use their services.

    Consumers use professional services (legal, accounting, financial, medical etc) when they perceive a need and they believe that the cost is justifiable and affordable. If regulators are to be criticised, it is for making advice unaffordable to many, not for failure to address the issue of trust.

  5. Nic,

    The simple truth is that whilst there clearly have been many problems in the past with Financial services and advice and there are still some now, the vast majority of Advisers/planners try to do a good job for their clients.

    The difference you highlight in your analogy, is the media and politicians have never ever systematically set out to destroy trust in the NHS, whereas they have set out to systematically destroy trust in Financial advisers and certainly the likes of yourself still do that today.

    The greatest irony in the whole thing, is that the public tend to believe the media and politicians, despite knowing that virtually all journalists and politicians and liars with their own agenda.

    If your any sort of journalist, you know this. Yet you sit here writing pieces that suggest something else.

    Perhaps the worst irony, is that many that desperately need help and advice and could be massively better off after receiving it, never seek it out, because of the media and politicians…

  6. This kind of crap article keeps Nicci boy in a job. Its easier than being a nurse and he will not have any back problems. Yawn (I have let myself down as I promised that I would not respond to any of the guff he writes. I will get the chain out and whip myself until I bleed)

  7. I don’t really get this analogy, although I may have run aground half way through the story, as did Nic it seems.

    I HAVE to trust the NHS whether I choose to or not. There is no option here. Well yes, I could go private (and have at times), but let’s be honest, most (if not all) of the Consultants/Doctors are NHS staff anyway. Some are good, some quite frankly are not.

    Is the NHS a complained about service/industry? You bet! Is criticism of the NHS and its staff/services fair? Well I guess most would still say not. So the difference comes down to finding and trusting the good people within an industry and how do you do that if you don’t meet them, whether by choice (financial advisers) or circumstance (NHS staff)?

  8. I am happy to identify myself as the mystery IFA in question, although what Sussex has to do with anything is a puzzle. I had the temerity to write to Nic to say that I did not recognise the mis-trust he seems to think is so prevalent. I said in my experience, I have been an IFA for 23 years, that I enjoy a high degree of trust from my clients, many of whom I have had for 10 years or more. I suggested anecdotally that I thought this was true of the majority of IFAs today. Whilst I had no proof it seems to me that you cannot have a sustainable business without trust. Also the world of financial services is radically better since the 1980s and 1990s. There are far fewer advisers, (when I joined the industry most were salesmen not advisers), the standards of professionalism and regulation have improved no end and commission, “the root of all evil,” has all but disappeared. The advice industry has moved on but unfortunately journalists like Nic are stuck in past, unable to move on from pension and endowment mis-selling. Challenging his view on the genuine trust that IFAs have threatens his “raison d’etre.” No wonder he comes out fighting.

    What Nic did not report from our robust e-mail exchange were his views on the nature of the so-called trust IFAs like me claim. He said it was a false trust akin to what a kidnap victim had with their kidnapper (his words). He was claiming in effect that my clients were victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, they were deluded and brainwashed and by implication needed “white knights” like him to rescue them. He subsequently used a contradictory analogy that he trusts his builder until he rips him off. The point he effectively makes is in these circumstances the customer learns by experience that his builder is a charlatan. He or she will no longer use them nor recommend them and the builder is destined to go out of business. Perhaps our clients have stuck with us over many years because their experience is good. Maybe Nic you should consider that the trust might actually be deserved.

  9. peter mulholland 23rd April 2016 at 7:23 am

    My belief is that Leaving things to trust is lazy thinking:
    Don’t do it with a builder
    Advisor etc …
    Always try to have some understanding of the area you are dealing with that way you will gain a better service and less likely to have a poor outcome. I have been on both sides of the situation (we all have) and it’s too tempting sometimes to cut corners or take advantage when you see those on the other side of an arrangement are weak. If we were honest with ourselves we would see that
    And recognize it- we live a happier life being true to oneself. I don’t always do that well but it’s ok it’s a path we tread each day sometimes it’s done better than others.

  10. I so often read Advisers claiming that – due to them having a good client bank and mutual trust – all advisers must, by proxy, be the same. If you’re a good adviser, and you know another 5-10 good advisers then you have sight of c.0.03% of the adviser market. Hardly a sample you can hang your hat on.

    Yes there are lots of good guys, but with a population of c.30,000 authorised advisers, there will certainly be a good share of absolute rotters spoiling it for everyone.

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