I have been called many things over the years and I can genuinely say that I don’t mind most of them one bit. But the one thing I have problems with is being told that I don’t like IFAs or their trade bodies.
In fact, I hold independent advisers in profound admiration. There are some whom I like a lot. They offer sound advice, deftly dealing with clients’ many issues and problems – which often have nothing to do with money matters – to create order out of financial chaos.
I also appreciate the earthy humour, the willingness to engage in debate, even the protestations of innocence on behalf of their profession. Most of all, I love conversions on the road to Damascus.
As for trade bodies, while I may not generally like their direction of travel or their current effectiveness, I want them to be as strong and vocal as possible. IFAs need a voice in the corridors of power. And every now and then, someone offers to provide it.
Take, for example, the case of Robert Sinclair. As readers will know, Robert is chief executive at the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, which broke from Aifa just over a year ago.
In the nine years that the AMI was part of Aifa, I never had cause to speak to Robert. Although a senior figure in the merged organisation, interviews at Aifa were always handled by Chris Cummings, David Severn or Paul Smee.
It was only after the split that I read anything noteworthy from Robert. I wasn’t that impressed: six months ago, he allowed himself and the AMI to be roped in with the ABI to press for a “basic advice plus” regime that would have allowed salespeople with a QCF Level 3 qualification to sell “simple” products, such as protection.
Robert’s press release talked of “the social issues of a pensions time bomb, the recognised saving and protection gap and the loss of mass-market advice to middle income groups by the closure of the tied advice arms of most of the major banks”.
I took a slightly different view on the proposal, seeing it as a last-ditch pre-RDR bid by the AMI to allow its under-qualified members to sell non-mortgage products.
To the best of my knowledge, that idea bit the dust and was never heard of again. But strangely enough, I found myself admiring the person who had voiced it. After all, you can’t help but respect a blatant declaration of self-interest, even if it is dressed up to look like it’s all for consumers’ benefit.
Which explains why I now find myself keeping an eye out for Robert’s various utterings, trying to work out if there is a deeper meaning to what he is proposing.
Last week was a case in point. In an article for Money Marketing nominally about how financial advisers should see off claims management companies – music to the ears of Neil Liversidge and Alan Lakey – Robert then advanced a novel idea: why not sell simple, no-nonsense products?
I say it’s a novel idea. In fact it is anything but. The notion that the vast majority of consumers don’t need the plethora of complicated and expensive products often foisted on them is hardly new. Some of us have been voicing the same concept for the best part of 20 years.
Still, it’s good to see such a Damascene transformation from a senior public figure on the financial scene.
What I like most of all is the unprecedented connection between a trade body chief and the exhortation to sell simple products. Going back through the publicly quoted remarks from previous senior figures within Aifa, for example, I do not recall any former chief executive ever uttering a single word about the products their members should be selling.
As Robert says in his Money Marketing article: “Customers come to us expecting that we do not follow the money or the cutest marketing gimmick. Our expertise and our integrity is what sets us apart from the rest.
“Our customers want us to de-mystify and tell them what is best for them. Good advice around simple solutions is what stands the test of time.”
It all sounds marvelous. So I hope this isn’t a back-door attempt by Robert and the AMI to place the discredited concept of simplified advice back on the agenda.
After all, simplicity is actually the hallmark of the most sophisticated of advisers. It is also what most consumers crave. Yet simple products, ironically, are precisely what the banks and their tied arms consistently failed to deliver, proving that you can missell the most appalling and complex products using the simplest language imaginable. All you need to be is economical with the truth.
Still, let’s give Robert the benefit of the doubt.
Yet that still raises the question of why he would wish to discuss the question of financial products other than mortgages in a Money Marketing column.
Yes, I know that AMI members don’t just advise on home loans but one might have thought that, having split from an organisation that represented members on the wider aspects of financial advice, Robert would have wanted to steer clear of non-mortgage topics.
Unless, of course, his column was also a job application. Any vacancies out there?
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org