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Nic Cicutti: Garry Heath’s trade body will only weaken Apfa

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Some people may find this hard to believe, but I have always had a soft spot for Garry Heath.

Many years ago, when Garry was chief executive of the National Federation of Independent Financial Advisers, Garry and I were, if not best pals, certainly pally with each other.

As I have written in Money Marketing before, I was even briefly offered a column in NFIFA’s monthly magazine.

That slot disappeared overnight, when I dared to offer some mild criticism of Garry’s trade body in my own newspaper, including what by today’s standards was a risible capital adequacy requirement. Still, that kind of thing is par for the course and it never stopped me respecting NFIFA or the man himself.

In any event, a year or so later it was Garry’s turn to be defenestrated from NFIFA’s successor, the IFA Association, by a coalition of life offices and some networks fed up with his posturing, which they felt was beginning to alienate the general public against the industry.

The deal, as I recall, was that if a newly-formed and much more responsible trade body, Aifa, were to be formed without Garry at the helm, they would support it financially.

Fifteen years later, Apfa, as Aifa was renamed a year or two ago, lurches from one financial crisis to another, in hock to adviser networks who help keep it on life support but without the resources to function effectively.

Afpa faces continual barracking from a small but vocal minority of advisers who believe it to be an irrelevance and refuse to join. From the other side, a smaller number of highly respected financial planners have long since quit on the grounds that Apfa no longer represents their more professional aspirations.

Meanwhile the majority of advisers, as far as I can make out, remain semi-voluntary members thanks to their networks’ block affiliations. But their interest and genuine support for Apfa’s work is limited at best.

Enter Garry Heath once more, this time at the helm of a new trade body, Libertatem, which one Latin definition I consulted last week describes as the “accusative singular” of Libertas, or freedom.

Which seems apt somehow, bearing in mind that the formation committee includes not just Garry, who was never shy about picking fights with regulators, but also Highclere Financial Services partner and former Money Marketing columnist Alan Lakey, ex-stalwart of the IFA Defence Union, Adviser Alliance and briefly, Apfa itself.

Garry wants Libertatem to recruit 4,000 individual advisers and 1,200 firms – 20 per cent of the directly authorised market – in the next 15 months. Financially, the target is to raise up to £1m in that time, roughly equal to Apfa’s annual budget of £800,000 or so.

The theory is a new Conservative Government will be more receptive towards advisers’ representations against overbearing financial regulations. Advisers will also be attracted by somewhat cheaper membership fees compared with Apfa’s.

On paper, it all sounds very good. My problem, however, is not just with the incredibly ambitious expansion target but with the underlying rationale for the launch.

I freely confess to not having a direct line to the Government’s new Treasury team. But I would be gobsmacked if David Gauke, who has just been re-appointed as financial secretary, or other more junior ministers including pensions minister Ros Altmann, will prove particularly sympathetic to Garry’s “accusative singular”.

The fact is a lot of water has passed under the bridge since Garry last led a trade body.

Compared with 15 or 20 years ago, when the media, myself included, were prepared to give Garry and NFIFA a respectful a hearing, things have changed. Expectations of the industry are different, as are assumptions many people have about advisers.

What helped change impressions, ironically, was the sight of Garry leading a – temporarily effective but ultimately self-defeating from the PR perspective – legal battle against IFAs having to carry out the pension review. There may have been some valid reasons for NFIFA’s defence of non-compliance, but the harm it to the image of all advisers did was incalculable.

This would become even more evident if Garry were to summon up some of the belligerence for which he is renowned, backed by loyal acolytes like Alan Lakey, when attempting to negotiate with the FCA.

As it happens, I am not even sure most advisers are in the same mental and emotional space as they were a decade or two ago. Many of Garry’s allies back then are less likely to want to pick fights with regulators and politicians, or the media.

They just want to get on and do their jobs as well as possible. And if that means putting up with some occasionally daft rules and regulations, so be it.

Which is why ultimately, what I suspect Garry’s new vehicle is far more likely to achieve is the further weakening of Apfa. A small rump of a few hundred, maybe even 1,000 members will attract cash and support away from advisers’ more established trade body, creating a long-term rivalry between the two. But it will not change the industry’s fundamental direction of travel.

Still, at least it gives Garry a few newspaper column inches. He has been starved of those for a few years.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

There are 16 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Hi Nic: Good to see you are good form. Libertatem will not be the downfall of APFA. If it falls it will because the networks on whose subs it depends cease to trade in the space (Sesame) or no longer wish to remain in membership (Openwork).

    APFA has a pathetically small number of directly authorised IFAs so Libertatem’s prime market will be those firms outside APFA who after 15 years of asking haven’t joined them

    However if others follow Openwork and APFA fails – the Independent sector will need Libertatem

  2. Garry, are you suggesting that Nic has not done his homework and may not be aware of this?

    I just thought he fancied a pop at you, as opposed to writing a well-researched article this week! 🙂

  3. As ever, the questions are;

    a) What do advisers require from their trade body?

    b) Have all, most or none of these been addressed by their existing trade body?

    Talk is cheap, we can all sit round a table and engage in pleasant discourse with people but the question which then arises is ‘what is the outcome’?

    I would urge all advisers to consider their futures, reflect on the past – with specific reference to regulator activity – and then join Libertatem.

  4. Michael Keech 21st May 2015 at 4:30 pm

    If Nic is against it then it must be good for IFAs.

  5. Douglas Baillie 21st May 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Let’s face it. Financial Advisers are a very large, but fragmented group of individuals who have never really been able to collectively represent themselves, or been able to express their experiences or views to anyone important who is prepared to listen to them, let alone take any meaningful action.
    Yet another trade body will just have the opposite effect of what is really needed, and will dilute the Financial Adviser voice even more.
    In the meantime, APFA need to be seen to be doing more for their members.

  6. Can someone let me know what APFA have achieved again ?

  7. I apologise before hand for being slightly crude !

    The way I see it is; the FCA is engaging in its own orgy, where no-one stops to take a bath !

    Mull that over if you will, then take time to consider APFA’s and or, any other present trade bodies roll (or not) in it ?

  8. paolo standerwick 21st May 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Signore Cicutti

    In response to the headline as I don’t read your articles. APFA IS ALREADY WEAK!

  9. Let me too state that I find Gary a very engaging personality, but not the sort of chap I would like to lead the peace negotiations if nuclear war was imminent. I also have great respect for Alan in his capacity as a life assurance and mortgage adviser, but as a Financial Services politician I place him somewhere between an iconoclast and a Luddite.

    In Gary’s case I am again very disappointed to see that he is already playing fast and loose with definitions. He has firmly stated that his new (almost unpronounceable) organisation is for all advisers, but his last sentence in the first post talks of the independent sector. Would that it was so!

    Apart from that I think Nic has pretty well hit the nail on the head – although Gary makes a fair point about APFAs membership and his hugely ambitious target. Personally I am beginning to wonder how much longer APFA will survive. It may well stumble on as long as there are Networks to support it – but what that timeframe will be is anyone’s guess. As far as Gary’s new entity is concerned – unless there is some sort of merger I don’t see this standing on its own feet and am prepared to put a fiver on guessing that in its currently envisaged form it won’t last 3 years. If I’m wrong let me know if you prefer BACS or cash.

  10. Trevor Harrington 21st May 2015 at 6:16 pm

    If you are a reasonably successful IFA … £240 is not an issue.
    No other “federation” or “trade body” has truly stood your corner … ever.
    Pay Garry your £240 quid and see what he does in the next 12 months.
    Then … if you are not happy … don’t pay it again.
    Put up … or shut up …. but above all else do not be an armchair critic … never pay … and then wonder why your business has been annihilated by the regulator.
    Just give him the money … and give him the opportunity … £240 squids is peanuts … and if it isn’t, then you are obviously in the wrong business … in which case …. goodbye.
    T
    x

  11. there is no hope of a single representative body for advisers because we are all such a disparate crew. And frankly if the regulator does not have to be legally accountable to parliament there is little hope of a trade body being listened to by said regulator. We have utterly useless regulation of financial advisers in the UK, and the cavern between the current regulatory framework and any vestige of commonsense is so vast that it is futile to pay £240 to any body to try and do anything about it.

    • I feel it depends on who is fighting your corner.

      For over 10 years we have been represented by dead sheep and rung climbers and it is time we changed this.

  12. Sascha Klauß 22nd May 2015 at 9:18 am

    Odd name. What exactly are they going to be doing *to* freedom? Libertati would have made a certain kind of sense (the dative case implying /towards/ freedom) or even Libertate (/through/ freedom). But the accusative?

    Not to mention “Libertatem” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I wonder how many times Garry will have to correct journalists who spell it “Libertatum” (“of several freedoms”).

  13. Julian Stevens 22nd May 2015 at 10:18 am

    Could APFA become any weaker than it already is?

  14. paolo standerwick 22nd May 2015 at 12:03 pm

    @Julian Stevens

    Yes APFA could actually disappear and do all of us a favour rather than misrepresent IFAs and FAs. That would be better for all everyone concerned apart for the dead sheep and rung climbers.

  15. Isn’t this interesting…

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