Many years ago – far more years than I care to remember – I was a union activist: a shop steward, branch secretary and, briefly, convenor of a joint shop stewards committee representing upwards of 6,000 local NHS workers.
We often had huge rows on the various union committees I sat on. Occasionally our side won the argument but more often than not we lost – in hindsight, probably rightly.
When our views were roundly rejected, some of us would wonder why we bothered to spend hours grafting away for the union if they took no notice of what we had to say anyway.
I was reminded of my old dilemmas last week after reading Alan Lakey’s extended grumble in Money Marketing about the point of him being on the Apfa council.
Alan joined Aifa – now known as Apfa – almost 18 months ago after years of complaining about how the trade body he is now a leading member of had become no more than a talking shop.
In fairness, long before joining Aifa he was a highly vocal spokesman – the financial services equivalent of Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn – on behalf of an angry minority, albeit a substantial one, of IFAs who have always felt that the industry as they knew it was going to hell in a handcart.
His U-turn at the end of 2012, when he signed up to Aifa and was elevated to its council, allowed that minority to hope their views would at last be considered seriously by their trade body.
In effect, Alan’s column last week is a progress report on his near-18 months both in Apfa and on its council. It has to be said that, as reports go, it is not exactly effusive about the organisation.
Alan reports being asked “whether I believe [Apfa] is capable of making a difference”.
I looked in vain for an answer to that question, which suggests to me that, had he given one, it would have been no.
He then adds: “I am also asked what it is that I have achieved during my tenure on the council. Have I accomplished anything to validate my position? The sad answer is I cannot think of a single difference I have made as a council member.”
For someone who joined in the hope of being able to persuade his colleagues on the Apfa council to take a tougher line on a range of issues, including opposition to claims firms, that is a stark admission of failure.
Intriguingly, Alan points out that where there have been successes, they have been achieved outside of Apfa.
It is true that he and his Afpa council colleague Neil Liversidge have led the fight against claims firms, even taking them to court for wasting their time. They have also held meetings with the Ministry of Justice, pushing it to take a much tougher line against CMCs. Other advisers have followed suit, helping to create a fightback which has seen hundreds of claims firms being closed down, winning advisers a bit of breathing space when it comes to some of the more ridiculous claims they face.
Apfa, meanwhile, has sat on its hands. While happy to sub-contract the hard graft to Liversidge and Lakey, the trade body as a whole appears to be in thrall to those who fund it in the overwhelming majority and, presumably, dictate its policy at a national level.
So much so that when Alan, who has long had a bee in his bonnet about the long-stop issue, asks to attend a meeting between Apfa and the FCA to discuss the matter, he is rebuffed.
Let me be honest: I think the long-stop debate is a side issue. It affects almost no IFAs and diverts advisers into a cul-de-sac, away from trying to create a set of policies that could help shape the entire industry in the 21st century.
But what is interesting here is that Apfa is refusing one of the long-stop’s strongest proponents the opportunity to attend a meeting to persuade the regulator of its merits.
The reality is Alan is seen as a hindrance when it comes to talking to regulators and/or politicians on regulatory questions.
This tells me two things: first, Apfa itself still has little or no understanding of where to lead advisers over the next 20 years, wasting time on the long-stop; and, second, it wants Alan and Neil to be members and sit on its council but does not really want them to join the grown-ups in their cosy chats over at Canary Wharf.
All this raises the question of what Alan is doing on the Apfa council in the first place.
A few years ago, when I wrote about Liversidge joining Aifa, I said there was a concern that he might be used as a figleaf to mask its failures. This view was strongly rejected by Neil and many of the IFAs who supported him.
Back in the day, when I asked my union colleagues why I was being allowed to graft for the union but had no opportunity to shape its policies, the phrase relayed back to me included the words “inside”, “urine” and “tent”.
I fear the same might apply to Alan and, sadly, Neil’s presence on Apfa council. If they leave, scores will leave too and many others will refuse to join. But what are they achieving by staying in?
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org