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Nic Cicutti: The sad demise of the doomed IFA Centre


I had intended writing about the closure of the IFA Centre when the news broke a few weeks ago but other events consumed most of my time back then.

A month on from that announcement, it is worth trying to understand what happened and why, as well as to come up with a balance sheet of the IFA Centre’s work in the 15 months of its existence.

At first sight, the demise of Gill Cardy’s organisation seems purely down to economics. For the centre to be financially viable, she needed at least 500 members willing to pay an annual fee of about £200. By the time it closed, she had 238 members from 102 firms.

To be sure, that was up a notch from the numbers she had revealed last July. But what they also demonstrated was an incredibly sluggish uptake in membership. Perhaps equally significantly, Gill faced a hard sell when it came to renewals in the coming months.

So what went wrong? My own view is that it was down to a combination of factors. First, there was the organisational one. In my experience, if you are forming something new, it is generally either the product of a bottom-up grassroots movement or it is a top-down launch.

In the first instance, hundreds of people in many disparate locations discover over time that they have a shared vision of the future. They may even be part of local groupings and the realisation that there are others like themselves all over the country inspires them to come together to create a voice for their views. The old Nfifa run by Garry Heath was a product of this approach.

Alternatively, a few people with a vision decide they want to share it with others. So they launch an organisation with as much fanfare and upfront funding as possible and hope others will rally to their banner. Aifa was born in this way, albeit that its funding came overwhelmingly from life insurers and networks.

The IFA Centre, by contrast, was neither fish nor fowl. It was formally launched after months during which it appeared to exist in a semi-official capacity. In other words, it limped into being rather than bursting on the scene with a bang.

What it really needed was a couple of dozen big industry names prepared to commit themselves publicly to the new organisation as part of a launch statement.

Apart from anything else, this would not just have demonstrated the quality and breadth of the IFA Centre but also given prospective members a good idea of the kind of people they would be standing alongside were they to join. In fact, it proved remarkably difficult to identify IFA Centre members publicly.

Had I been Gill, even before launching I would also have organised a speaking tour of maybe 15 or 20 of the UK’s biggest IFA population centres, perhaps hosted by a friendly local independent adviser in each area.

The aim would have been to create a rough organisational structure on the ground. Such a structure would almost certainly have been amended or refined as time went on, but it would at least have created a reference point for new members in each locality.

It might also have been possible to gain a higher and more credible profile outside the trade press by talking to consumer journalists about why your members really are the cream of the crop. That didn’t happen either.

Instead, the image we saw, perhaps unfairly, was that of one woman trying her utmost to be chief recruiter, campaigner and administrator all at once, with no one willing to stand by her side and help out.

Perhaps the biggest problem, unfortunately, was not one of tactics but a political and representational one. At the end of the day, if you want people to pay to join your organisation, you must have a key purpose they agree on and want you to fulfil.

Yet the IFA Centre’s central function was never clear to me. Was it there because there were specific issues relating to independent financial advice compared to restricted advisers, which needed separate representation with regulators and politicians?

Was Arch cru, about which Gill became a key campaigner, really one of those distinctive IFA-only issues?

Did the centre harbour dreams of acting as a quality destination for fee-paid IFA professionals, promoting higher standards – that is to say, did it hope to emulate the IFP but in a marginally less restrictive, broader church?

Or was the IFA Centre aiming to act as a reference point and propagandist for IFAs now that Aifa had morphed into Apfa? If so, did Gill’s new body also want to play a role as a mini-IFA Promotion?

All of the above are worthwhile aims and it would have been possible to integrate several of them in one organisation. Instead, the message that came through was confused and made it difficult to ‘sell’ the benefits of the IFA Centre, no matter how brave its founder.

As someone who passionately believes that IFAs need a voice to articulate their distinctive commitment to ethical professional values, I regard the centre’s demise as desperately sad – and as an opportunity missed. It is unlikely IFAs will be offered another one.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at



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There are 19 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. You are of course wrong again Nic !!
    Oh; its so easy to snipe and dictate how you would do it different, from the side-lines, and at this point I would like to say I was not a member of IFA centre.
    The main point is the regulator is an impenetrable rock filled with ex bankers, ex compliance personal auditors and alumni of old school ties.
    No trade body will succeed (in real terms) they may get small victories and be thrown a bone every now and again and this will not change until we get a “real” IFA presence within the regulator (I do know of quite a few IFAs who have applied for positions, most not even granted an interview!)
    This should be the first thing any trade body needs to rectify; otherwise the barks they make will just carry on the wind right past.

  2. DH – I disagree that the sole reason for failure was the FCAs recruitment policy – for balance I know a few ex advisers that went on to work for the regulator.

    I think the key issue is the nature of the IFA market, with particular focus on the ‘I’ – Being independant means advisers are generally very inwardly focused and need to be shown the benefits of joining any trade body.

    When I worked for a bank many years ago, thier union reps would come to each of us and sit down to expel the benefits of joining, answering questions etc. – the take up was massive (around 80%).

    I think this approach would be very effective but also very resource intensive. I would argue that any type of trade body starting out needs significant capital and time to bed in.

  3. Nic,

    I was always told you should never kick somebody when they are down particularly when the individual tried their best!

    I think you’ve just updated the old analogy within financial services.

    “If you can’t sell – manage and if cannot sell or manage – train and now if you can’t do any of these become a financial journalist”

    If you held this viewpoint it would have probably been helpful to give Gill some guidance while IFA centre was around and even possibly use your influence to get those key members involved.

  4. Nic is perfectly right in so far as it is ineffably sad that the IFA Centre (of which I was a member) has folded.

    Where I do disagree is in his conclusion of lack of direction or purpose. As an ex AIFA Council member I couldn’t understand why Independent advisers didn’t flock to her banner en masse once AIFA dropped the ‘I’. The IFAC was the ONLY organisation prepared to represent the IFA – what better reason to join? Consider that for a sole trader APFA charges are some 80% higher than the IFAC. This, to my mind, illustrates that not many sole traders have joined APFA and that APFA is in the main the organ for the Networks; who are no longer independent – if they ever were- and the larger organisations.

    I won’t disagree that she had a lot on her plate and that perhaps the time and effort expended on one issue (Arch Cru) may perhaps not have been the wisest course in hindsight. But then we can all be clever with hindsight.

    IFAs need a voice. No matter how small a voice at outset, but without one we will be overwhelmed by the nay- sayers and vested interests who are shouting that there is little difference between Restricted and Independent. If nothing else we need to cajole the Regulator to ensure that the distinctions are rigidly policed and that terms like independent whole of market (restricted to pensions) – or such like are firmly stamped on. Restricted is Restricted. We didn’t make the rules. We are bound by them and those of us that have chosen to remain Independent (most surveys put it 80% of advisers say they will remain independent – so wither APFA?) have been busting our guts to ensure we comply. That deserves some representation and recognition.

  5. @Peter Herd: I think you are confusing role job as a journalist, i.e as someone who comments on industry matters, with that of an active protagonist in the activities of IFAs.

    Although I was broadly sympathetic to the IFA Centre and made that fairly clear in my columns several times, it was never my job to a) act as it’s PR frontman, or b) tell Gill Cardy what to do, especially in terms of her organisation’s strategy and tactics.

    Had she asked me, I would have given her my opinion, but Gill had the total right to make her own decisions. Apart from anything else, she was probably inundated by people willing to give her their “opinions”. What she needed was more bodies to share the load with – who could then have given their opinions based on the lessons learned from common experiences of trying to win people to the IFA Centre.

    As for using any influence I might have (itself a debatable point), to persuade key industry figures to come out publicly in support of the IFA Centre, that would have been a dangerous departure from my job role.

    And in any event, can you imagine how the IFA Centre would have been viewed by the IFA community if it was known that I was acting as its recruitment sergeant? Doesn’t even bear thinking about [shudders…].

    No, I think the real problem was that it was IFAs themselves who should have rallied round failed to do so.

    With the honourable exception of Harry Katz, who did come out as a member of the IFA Centre, very few of its other supporters ever did so. Maybe some of them were hedging their bets, remaining in Apfa at the same time. The rest stayed in the closet.

    Ultimately, that proved its undoing, as well as a lack of 100% clarity in the IFA Centre’s objectives. Of course, these are my views. And I’m happy to accept I could be wrong. But if someone ever wants to pick up the pieces and try to set up a new body for IFAs, the lessons of what happened this time need to be discussed.

  6. “Yet the IFA Centre’s central function was never clear to me.”
    No, nor to me which is why I did not join.
    I would welcome an association of IFAs with a common purpose and sufficient size to lobby the FCA on many of the issues that we currently face. Unfortunately I wonder if this is ever going to happen; we spend too much of our time squabbling with each other and in some cases just trying to score points off each other. There is a divergence of views (not unnaturally) on many issues and the old dictum divide and rule applies as far as the FCA is concerned.
    I agree Gill’s initiative was brave and deserved better; unfortunately she was not Lawrence of Arabia.

  7. An excellent piece from Nic that it captures all the relevant points.

    I think you’re little rant on the restricted/independent piece is mis-placed and goes to highlight Nic’s point on clarity.
    IFAC existed before RDR. At that point I guess it supported IFAs under the old definition. Post RDR I guess it supported IFAs under the new definition. Some people didn’t change what they were doing but their label did for technical reasons. So what changed in practice for IFAC? Many people weren’t sure whether they would be independent or restricted post RDR (especially given the definition wasn’t solidified until very late in the day). Why join an organisation that would ditch you for wearing the wrong label on the 31 December 2013 even though your service didn’t change? I asked on several occasions what exactly was the definition of IFA that IFAC supported but there was never a reply and nothing ever appeared on the website about what an IFA was either.
    Independent advice has gone from a practical meaning to a nebulous concept as a result of the change in definition… unintended consequence number 954…

  8. @ Grey Area

    Let’s get a few things straight.

    1. I joined IFAC in late 2012 – when RDR was more or less a done deal.
    2. I remained a member of APFA, as I was perfectly prepared to see how things would work out.
    3. I have recently received my renewal request for APFA and am debating whether or not I should renew.
    4. I paid my renewal to IFAC when it was pretty evident it was likely to fold, but one lives in hope!
    5. I am not averse to joining organisations which I think will benefit my own business in particular and then perhaps the wider industry. I freely admit that self-interest comes first. I have been a member of IFP even before it became ‘compulsory’ to have a body to issue SPS.
    6. I have never been a great devotee of the concept of Trade Unionism. When I was responsible for employees I always ensured that remuneration and conditions were well in excess of TU expectations. Therefore I have always naively hoped that those to whom I must answer to would have the same attitude. Indeed I was even reluctant to join the National Union of Students when I was at college. (Jack Straw was the President then!)

    I have debated the issue of independence with you before. I may concede some of your points, but that really is not the issue. The Regulator has made the rules, decided on the distinction. It seems that a majority of IFAs wish to retain this escutcheon and in so doing must embrace all that it implies – at no little effort. Therefore (aside from any of the usual arguments) this should be recognised and the distinction made plain. That you may wish to lobby for a rationalisation of the current rules is again another matter – and I wouldn’t demur. But we are where we are.

  9. @Harry
    Apologies if you thought I was making any reference to you personally as I wasn’t. I have a great deal of respect for you and your views.

    The subject of independence is just that and not associated with the FA bit tagged on the end. As is normal in the financial adviser arena the lens is focussed internally. My ‘problem’ with the independence/restricted definition is the wider impact, in particular on specialists. It’s not a small issue and impacts clients who now have no possibility of understanding the distinctions and that’s a real problem for IFAs (whatever that means – and that’s the problem).

    The rules restrict the use of the word ‘independent’ (not the FA bit) to those who advise on investment products. So, now, when you call yourself ‘independent’ that’s all it refers to and nothing else, i.e. you are ‘product’ adviser. The Regulator has made the rules and we are where we are so that’s all ‘independence’ says about you, right?

    As a consequence of the rule changes, unless you advise across all investment products, you are restricted. No independent pension advisers. No independent investment advisers, etc. It then gets silly… A specialist investment manager who only provides discretionary services can call themselves independent. The same discretionary manager who now decides to give investment advice (but not pensions) can no longer call themselves independent – they are now ‘restricted’ having added a service.

    Advice on shares, corporate/government bonds, long term care, IHT, pension transfers? Don’t do any of those guv – I’m independent…

    For ‘independent’ and ‘IFA’ to mean something ‘restricted’ must be clear too. So, unless you are happy with your IFA moniker being at best inchoate (and dying a slow death) it really is the issue. In fact it should be front and centre.

  10. I was and remain a member of IFAC, it still exists, it just has a different function now and is no longer trying to be a representative body as IFAs now have what they deserve, i.e. no specific representation.

    Like Harry, I joined late, although Gill asked me if I would be joining BEFORE IFAC launched as she did a lot of other vocal advisers. I said not until it was clear what the definition would be under RDR. Joining and leaving could have been counterproductive for IFAC. Once the final RDR rules were clear, I joined.

    I have rejoined APFA as the only body representing advisers and like Harry did before will argue for a separate “college” structure to recognise there are some issues that only apply to IFAs.

  11. @Grey Area

    Kind of you to say so – flatterer!

    No apology necessary.

  12. As it happens I did organise events around the country. I also agreed to speak at ten events around the country organised by a platform provider. I spoke at Money Marketing RDR invitational events, events organised by another monthly publication for IFAs, two events organised by a network and two IFA awards ceremonies. Profile interviews were published in all the adviser trade papers and opinion pieces were also published. I set up Linked In profiles and Twitter feed and spoke at other individual events including CII meetings. I paid for the services of an ex-broker consultant to make contact with her connections and invite them to join IFA Centre.
    Given that it is a not-for-profit membership organisation using member subscriptions to fund IFA Centre activity I had to make a decision about how much extra money to spend on recruitment, publicity, advertising and PR compared to, for example, attending meetings with FSCS and challenging why they would not join the action against Capita to pursue their objective of recoveries for the adviser community, or to ask why Catalyst was being charged to the IFA community …
    Yes, you can argue that Arch cru was not an IFA only issue – but that’s no reason for me not to try to engage lawyers to try to ensure that ALL investors got compensation and that no advisers were charged for the failure of the ACD to meet their regulatory obligations. And it is the smallest, mainly IFA firms, who have most to gain from that case being won – and yes, if the lawyers win everyone will benefit, IFA or Restricted, member or not. But no-one else was doing that. Why?
    And whilst many of the issues facing advisers are the same, whether you are Independent or Restricted, or indeed whether you are an adviser or a DFM, or any authorised firm for that matter, there are some where one organisation cannot simultaneously stand up for “both sides” – the MiFID proposal that Restricted could take commission and Independent had to be fee only, making a very unlevel playing field had the proposals been implemented, is a case in point.
    And yes, I was doing it on my own – I also regularly asked members to refer other members and was promised other recruitment support which never materialised. I made it perfectly clear what the numbers were and what was needed. The fact is that the single reason why advisers said they wouldn’t join was because IFP and PFS were representing them. They are not – they represent their professional individual members and the qualifications they offer – not distinguishing between Independent or Restricted advisers or their businesses, but if that’s what IFAs believe and as a result decide against supporting IFA Centre then I can’t do much about that.

  13. Well said Gill. No one should say you didn’t try.
    We held how many was it Gill? 5 seminars here in Ramsgate and invited not only IFACentre members, but non members and restricted advisers too.
    We’ve got seminars arranged for 30th and 31st January in Kent if anyone wants to attend.
    Adviser Alliance tried and so did IFADU
    APFA only survives because of network member fees.
    Independent Advisers will continue to get the (lack of) representation they deserve due to their failure to unite whether they be DA like my firm or Network members.

  14. Grey Area has explained the inexplicable far better than any other commentator.

    Gill’s problem, as Adviser Alliance discovered, was that when the dust settles and the cheerleaders go to bed, the real supporters put their hands in their pockets whilst the apathetic majority continues to groan and moan without lifting a finger.

    If APFA relied on individual advisers joining, as opposed to automatic network membership, it would be dead within days.

    Advisers get what they deserve I’m afraid.

  15. Dear Alan

    Many thanks for baldly confirming what I have suspected and been ‘moaning’ about for years – even when I was on the council. The organisation runs at the behest of those that pay the piper. Quite naturally. These payers are the Networks and the large players. Their aims and objectives rarely coincide with those of the small adviser. Indeed it could be argued that they were never truly independent anyway and I don’t think I’m being unduly polemic when I say that they were never representative of what is best in the advice sector and tended invariably to hold standards down.

    That is not to say that there were (and perhaps still are) some very good firms within their ambit, but I would guess they are the exception not the rule. One wonders how many of the good firms will be leaving over the next few years.

    I am wrestling with the decision whether to renew my membership of APFA and your statement hasn’t helped towards a positive conclusion! From my perspective the best thing that has happened at APFA over the past year is that SJP hasn’t joined.

  16. The sour reality is that APFA is dependent on Network support but until it can stand financially from the subscriptions of individual advisers it will always be seen as in the grip of outside forces.

    That is the challenge as much as any regulatory matter.

  17. Oh Alan…. not THAT photo please….

  18. I agree with Phil of the pic Alan

  19. Diet is not going well

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