Not many people will know this but I was once Garry Heath’s best mate. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration but it was certainly the closest he and Nfifa, the precursor to Aifa, came to a friendly relationship with a national newspaper journalist.
For several years, I wrote in Nfifa’s monthly magazine about regulatory matters from a consumer perspective. The feedback from Garry and his colleagues in Covent Garden, where Nfifa was then based, was that my comments were valued.
More important, certainly from Garry’s point of view, Nfifa was always given a fair shake in any copy I wrote. I might have disagreed with what he told me but his viewpoint would never be unfairly reported in my news story – although comment pieces were another matter.
Garry, Nfifa and myself bumbled along in this way for several years and probably would have continued to do so, had it not been for two problems. The first was that I increasingly saw elements of consumer detriment in aspects of some, though not all, Nfifa activities. The second, even bigger problem for both of us was that I could not ignore it. If I disagreed with something Garry and his chums were doing, I had to write about it somewhere.
Of course, when you do that there are bound to be costs. And so it was that after a reasonably mild column, by today’s standards at least, my space in Nfifa’s journal disappeared. One month, I was receiving deadline details from Sam, one of Garry’s assistants, the next month, zip, nada, nothing. When I enquired, I was told my column had been terminated.
I have never held a grudge against Garry for that. It had gradually become obvious over several months there was a divergence of opinion between us.
In my subsequent news reporting at least, I continued to show him and Nfifa the same level of fairness I always felt was appropriate to a representative of a major constituency in the financial services industry. Even today, I still respect Garry for what he did to pull the IFA sector together back then and the strength of purpose he showed in representing its interests.
The difficulty for Garry Heath is that the world has changed but he does not seem to have spotted the fact
But there is a big difference between admiring his past work and accepting that what he is saying today is correct.
In the past year or two, Garry has again come to the fore in matters involving IFA interests. Occasional comments have turned into more regular outings on the trade newspaper circuit. Garry’s profile is rising again.
To a large extent, his renewed ascent is a consequence of the weakness of most other trade body representatives. The folk memory of a pugnacious Garry still has the potential to rally a few diehards around the banner of resistance to excessive regulatory intervention – or what he regards as excessive.
The difficulty for Garry is that the world has changed but he does not seem to have spotted the fact. Last week, he wrote an online article for Money Marketing, urging a delay in the introduction of the RDR.
Garry quoted a survey by MyTouchstone, an IFA profiling database, which found that only 5 per cent of IFAs are RDR-ready, as compared with Aifa, whose own statistics suggest the figure is 75 per cent. “So who do we believe?,” asks Garry rhetorically, opting for the far smaller number that “proves” his point.
In his article, he claims the FSA never did “a proper impact assessment” of the RDR on IFAs. Wrong. It actually published a number of detailed studies, some of whose figures have been used at various points to try and show, unsuccessfully in my opinion, that thousands of advisers will leave the industry and millions of their customers will suffer.
Garry then throws out a mass of additional and unquantifiable statistics – such as only 5 per cent of IFAs have obtained their level four qualifications – all conveniently posed as questions to save him from having to justify the lack of any evidence to justify them, before finishing with: “This child of vested interest needs to be put back in the nursery before it does any more damage.”
For someone like Garry even to imagine that the FSA or the FCA will consider delaying the RDR is sad.
What is even sadder is that in playing to his assumed gallery, he does not seem to realise time has moved on. As more than one person told him when his article was published online, his call for a delay means thousands of IFAs who used the four years’ notice they had to obtain their qualifications and reorganise their businesses are being kicked in the teeth.
As more IFAs qualify and come up with charging structures that allow them to practise successfully after 2012, the number of IFAs listening to Garry will steadily decline. Will the last one out please turn off the lights?
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org