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Nic Cicutti: The token rebels within Apfa

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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 nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

There are 10 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. For once Nic and I are 99% in agreement.

    However the longstop issue is not a diversion, it is a potential life-changing loss of rights that affects every person in the advice arena.

    On a moral level it is vile that this industry should be signled out for the removal of a legitimate defence afforded to all other UK citizens.

    On a monetary level it is quite possible that an adviser or his estate could receive a knock on the door from the FOStapo with the unwelcome news that they have upheld a complaint about advice from more than 20 years back and that the firm has to pay £££s or suffer legal consequences.

    On a regulatory level is shows how far the pendulum has swung in favour of the consumer who, it appears, is incapable of taking any level of responsibility for his /her actions.

  2. Have to agree Nic

    I fear you have a battle khaki personality, but wear red underwear ?

  3. Nick Pilkington 12th June 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Alan,
    I totally agree with you having just been presented for a claim for a pension mortgage written in 1992 with the pension policy itself cancelled 21 years ago.
    The policy redress according to the ombudsman will be (including interest at 8%) almost the total amount of the mortgage. The redress totally ignores the saving made by the client in paying interest only.
    Interestingly my PI insurer said that the FCA/FSA or whatever cannot (& I would be interested in your views Alan) retrospectively remove the right to a longstop which was in place when the policy was written.

  4. I would also argue that the long-stop is not considered a side issue by most IFAs. It is a very unpleasant thought that a situation, such as nick Pilkington describes, could occure many years into one’s retirement. Of course this is not an issue that somebody like Nic Cicutti has to contend with so it may seem unimportant to him.

  5. To suggest the longstop is a side issue demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the industry on which you purport to commentate. Introduce longstop everyone PI premiums go down overnight and that really would be a result. A few extra grand a year for every advice firm in the alone would be very welcome indeed as would the freedom from worry…

  6. Julian Stevens 12th June 2014 at 5:37 pm

    A good article. Before much longer, Alan and then Neil will follow Dick Carne’s example and quit. APFA’s just a talking shop that achieves very little of any real value. Certainly the regulator doesn’t take it seriously. In fact, anecodotally, the regulator’s attitude towards APFA is one of thinly disguised contempt.

    Chris Hannant likes to talk about “holding the regulator to account” but, for its part, the regulator regards APFA as just a yapping little dog at its back door and takes not a scrap of notice of its views on or calls for anything. If the TSC can’t hold the regulator to account (and it manifestly can’t), then what possible prospects of success can APFA claim? The time for pussyfooting around with political niceties is long, long since past.

    The only strategy worth APFA pursuing is for the creation of a Statutory Independent Regulatory Oversight Committee with the unassailable authority to say to the regulator either This is wrong and you aren’t going to do it or This is wrong and you’re going to have to undo it.

    I just don’t think Chris Hannant has the bottle for it.

  7. I shall put my oar in as a previous council member.

    I don’t think I can do better than refer to my post earlier this month in response to Alan’s article:

    Alan, you seem to have achieved as much as I did, but I took longer – about 4 or 5 years if I recall.

    As far as the Long Stop is concerned many may know that I have wondered what all the fuss is about. So if you retire at an early age (say 65) then you will have to wait till you are 80 before it all washes through.

    I would have thought the following a far more practical solution.

    1. Lobby the insurers to provide a decent run off insurance.
    2. Be a little more fastidious in the first place in who you take on as a client
    3. Ensure you know as much as possible about all your clients and if at all feasible know where the bodies are buried.

    I guess those 3 points are probably as effective as a Long Stop and might actually be achievable. To those who might shout ‘point of principle’ I say for heaven’s sake pragmatism gets better results.

    As far as Trade Bodies are concerned – after over 25 years in the business I have come to the conclusion that in the main they benefit those who run it more than those who join it. Of course there are exceptions. The Trade bodies are in the main run on the behest of and for the benefit of the large firms and most of all the Networks. Not surprising really as it is those who pay the piper. Unlike a professional body where each individual is an individual member. So like the other professions (as after all that is what we aspire to be) our Professional Bodies should take on this mantle. A far fairer solution and they anyway have their USP – the SPS.

    I actually suggested a merger with a Professional Body during my tenure. The suggestion was received about as enthusiastically as Guy Fawkes in Westminster. I can ascribe this to various factors. Egos and income perhaps, but I again revert to the vested interests of the large organisations. The Professional Bodies have individual membership and don’t have the block vote. APFA and AIFA before it had a funding model taken from the Labour party in the 1970’s.

  8. Neil F Liversidge 12th June 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I don’t doubt for a minute that Nic wrote this article with utter sincerity but sincerity does not automatically equate to reality. The reality is that there has been a major shift in APFA’s centre of gravity. That has been brought about not so much by personnel changes as by changes in attitude on behalf of those who could be called the major players. Time was when the networks and nationals assumed everything would be all right in the end and consequently they probably didn’t fight that hard. These days they know that the entire profession is being ruined from smallest to largest including all in between. The reality is that attitudes have hardened across the board. I suppose I should feel insulted and act all outraged at this article which effectively portrays me as a naïve dupe who’s there for the window-dressing. I know the reality is rather different though, so my actuals feelings are ones of mild amusement tinged with regret that APFA is so wrongly perceived. I don’t plan quitting anytime soon. Rather I plan to follow Churchill’s motto and KBO. The most beneficial changes in all societies are most often brought about not be coups and revolutions but by gradual and persistent effort winning small gains here and there which all add up. I understand that this is not an exciting message and that our progress might be rather too gradual for many, but nobody else is going to do the job. In financial services regulation is like a giant boulder bearing down hill on the adviser community. Our job is to push back. A few more shoulders to the boulder would be a welcome help so if you’re not a member yet, please join.

  9. You have to be prepared to accept financial execution to make a point sometimes. I had a very interesting meeting at Canary Towers yesterday with regard my client agreements which explain the existence of the longstop and the circumstances where it WILL apply. If your firm is sole trader or partnership, you are MAD. More to follow hopefully Tuesday next.

  10. @Neil – Keep up the good work. I voted for you.

    @ Alan – Keep up the good work and I will see you Tuesday re Longstop issues

    @ Harry – I agree pragmatism would have the best result for me personally, but not being in the Army in the 1980’s would have been better for me if the Soviet Union had invaded East Germany as I would probably have died in Dover after driving through persistent nerve agent and would never have got as far as West Germany, BUT I was willing to try to do so as my would pe9ople like Paul Etheridge, Brian Lentz and many bothers in our industry and like my grandfather did 50 years earlier (TA, called up and trained in Scotland for Norway with Phantom Reconisance Regiment and then sent to North Africa, Italy and Germany (I suspect he saw Munich/Belen/Bergen first hand, but don’t know as he died when I was 5

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