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Nic Cicutti: What is Apfa’s vision for financial advice?

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If there is one thing guaranteed to give my age away, it is my recollection of what it was like to be a trade union member in the 1970s.

In most workplaces back then, unions rarely had to justify their worth by pointing to things they achieved on behalf of their members, although they often did deliver better pay and working conditions.

And if we felt the union or its representatives were rubbish we might heap scorn on the grey-faced full-time official who turned up at our meetings, sucking on a mint as he told us to be more “realistic” in our demands.

But it never occurred to us to leave, because we believed in the core need to have someone stand up for us when things got tough. And as ineffective as unions sometimes were, the alternative seemed much, much worse.

Things are different today. Many collective groups, including trade associations, are weaker than they used to be. Joining and staying is frequently an individual rather than a collective choice, based as often as not on a precise calculation of what that organisation can do for you. And if the cost seems greater than the benefit, well forget it.

Which is why I was not too surprised by Money Marketing editor Natalie Holt’s editorial the other week, when she reflected on Apfa’s recent history and then sought to respond to the argument about why people should belong to their trade body.

“Some firms question what Apfa has ever achieved for them, or argue that any benefit of membership is intangible and hard to quantify,” Natalie wrote.

“To give some concrete examples, Apfa delivered a total of £6m in annual cost savings to advisers by fighting to cut the cost of Pension Wise and the Money Advice Service. It did this with a turnover of just under £800,000. That seems to be a pretty clear value for money assessment right there.”

I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view. I have read the detailed four-page submission by Apfa to the FCA’s consultation on regulated fees and levies for 2015/16. It is a good, clear and credible response.

This is the kind of nitty-gritty work that organisations like Apfa carry out every day on behalf of their members: position papers, responses, putting forward arguments that you hope will sway those with the real power to make decisions that affect your work category’s interests.

Having performed such tasks at a fairly menial level in the distant past I can understand both how important such work is and also how unrecognised it so often is. Lobbying and careful argument is generally the main way of influencing events.

So if you argue for something and, occasionally, the regulator appears to shift slightly from its original position, it is entirely natural to see it as a triumph for the carefully-crafted case you advanced.

The problem with such a view, sadly, is it also leads you to grandstand and claim victories for yourself and your organisation, where they actually belong to a far wider collection of individuals and groups.

To give an example from a few years ago, I remember criticising the FSA’s former Consumer Panel in the pages of Money Marketing for being “a toothless body which has managed to achieve almost nothing… since it was formed.”

No sooner had I done so than the panel’s then vice chairman Dianne Hayter, an archetypal “professional consumerist” whom I had also singled out for a bit of a mauling, wrote in to defend her organisation – and to claim all sorts of astonishing triumphs on its behalf.

For instance, the “successful campaign” to make sure the FSA investigated self-certified mortgages. Or the Consumer Panel’s “major success” in persuading the Treasury that home reversion schemes needed to be regulated.

Presumably everyone else who campaigned on these issues, such as Which? and trade bodies like the Council of Mortgage Lenders, plus scores of articles written by journalists had nothing to do with it.

As I wrote at the time: “It reminds me of the cartoon I saw once of a pharaoh, standing on a pyramid and looking down on the assembled masses whose decades-long, back-breaking labour led to this wonderful structure being erected. He tells them: ‘I built this pyramid – oh, and you lot helped.’”

That is why to suggest that Apfa is solely or even mostly responsible for a reduction in advisers’ contributions to the overall cost of Pension Wise or the MAS does a disservice to the many other individuals, organisations and publications, including Money Marketing itself, where powerful arguments have been raised against the way this financial burden was being imposed.

The issue of whether you belong to a trade union or a professional association, it has always seemed to me, is as much to do with whether you believe in its message as in the effectiveness of its lobbying. This is all the more the case if, as we all know deep down, Afpa is so sorely underfunded.

For Afpa to retain existing members and recruit new ones it needs to make a compelling case that does not include grandiose claims about its own abilities but a compelling vision of financial advice in the 21st century. We are still waiting to know what that vision might be.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

There are 12 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Proving that you have achieved anything is difficult in the murky world of regulation where the real information is often kept hidden away with an efficiency worthy of the KGB.

    I recall at my last APFA Council meeting being told by one member that APFA should claim victory for every success achieved by anybody so as to bolster the organisation’s status. Frankly, this kind of mendacity is exactly why APFA is now in a weaker position than at any time in its 15 year history.

    It is easy to claim credit for other people’s achievements and even easier to jump on any passing bandwagon when it appears to offer the potential for greater kudos.

    Like religion and English football it is more a question of trust and nothing to do with reality.

  2. Nic

    I think (again) you are being a tad unfair to APFA.

    When you joined the Union and paid your subs it was only to ONE Union. Advisers now have to pay subs to their professional body (otherwise no SPS) to the FCA, to the FSCS, to their PII and then perhaps to a trade body.

    This is surely membership fatigue. Years ago when the RDR was first mooted I suggested to AIFA that they should be a provider of SPS – but was firmly put back in my cage. This would have given them not only a USP but a lifeline.

    As I have bleated so many times in the past – the Trade Body should amalgamate with the Professional body – after all that’s what Lawyers, Accountants, Doctors and Architects do – so why are our bodies so intransigent on this issue?

  3. Julian Stevens 11th June 2015 at 2:38 pm

    It’s now up to Libertatum/em to blaze a new trail. More is needed than an endless string of articles and meetings to discuss the issues of concern. If the FCA can tell the TSC to get knotted, then on what basis does APFA believe its attitude towards them will be any different?

  4. Neil Liversidge 11th June 2015 at 3:29 pm

    @Alan Lakey: Your statement that “I recall at my last APFA Council meeting being told by one member that APFA should claim victory for every success achieved by anybody so as to bolster the organisation’s status. Frankly, this kind of mendacity is exactly why APFA is now in a weaker position than at any time in its 15 year history.” is to the best of my recollection untrue. I was sat next to you at that meeting when you did your dramatic little flouncing resignation. I don’t remember anyone making the statement you allege and I’m pretty sure it would have registered with me for its absurdity if nothing else Now that you’ve effectively smeared all present maybe you’d like to specify precisely who you are accusing so he or she can reply? Alternatively maybe you’d like to withdraw the accusation?

  5. Neil Liversidge 11th June 2015 at 3:34 pm

    @Nic: Yes it’s true that others have played their part in the various campaigns in which APFA has been involved. I have never said otherwise. The fact however is that whilst others come and go, and show interest in some issues but not others, only APFA has taken on every issue of relevance and has produced a well argued response in every case. Anyone can whip up a militia for a local fight but after they’ve all gone back to their farms it’s up to the standing army to keep slogging on and win the war.

  6. Neil Liversidge 11th June 2015 at 3:36 pm

    @ Julian Stevens: Nobody’s going to be doing any blazing without funding Julian. I hope for Garry’s sake you’re sending him at least the £50pm I pay to APFA. Or will he be another that you cheer and (and in due course jeer) from your armchair?

  7. Okay Neil, whilst it was not my intention to dirty the APFA laundry any further the truth is that it was you that stated this.

    The whole council heard you state this so to deny it is beyond fatuous, it’s deceitful.

    As you know, I resigned when I discovered that the Executive was lobbying against me prior to discussions.

  8. “APFA has taken on every issue of relevance”? Come off it, Neil. What’s APFA tried to do about the FS/CA’s longstanding and total disregard for the Statutory Code of Practice For Regulators? This is surely the single most important issue of all and lies at the very core of everything that APFA claims to be trying to achieve for the practitioners whose legitimate concerns, gripes and interests it claims to represent. The FCA may enjoy the luxury of statutory immunity from prosecution but surely it doesn’t have immunity from statute itself? So please tell us right here and right now, in unequivocal terms, just what APFA’s strategy is (or has been) on this.

    Whilst you’re at it, perhaps you could tell us also what APFA has tried to do about the £118m we were overcharged by the FSA over a period of five years.

    What alternative, simplified and relevant framework has APFA put forward for the RMA returns? Has it challenged the FCA on what it actually does with all the data it requires intermediary firms to submit? All the evidence, notably the FCA’s failure to identify and nip in the bud untoward trends such as recommendations to invest in high risk UCI Schemes strongly suggests the answer to that one to be damn-all. Yet the failures of UCI Schemes and the FSCS, without prior notice, let alone any consultation, having quietly taken on responsibility for paying compensation (which we’re forced to fund) for those failures constitute a very significant proportion of the seemingly endless and endlessly ballooning additional levies we’re being forced to pay. These costs are a massively relevant issue.

    What efforts is APFA making towards the TSC being granted the powers it needs to be able to hold the FCA meaningfully to account? What has Lord Deben’s input been on this? He’s a member of Parliament’s Upper House for heaven’s sake. Does he have no influence or is he just making no effort to exert any?

    And what about the ArchCru debacle? Why isn’t APFA challenging the legality of the FCA holding the intermediary community to account for what have been clearly revealed to be failings on the part of the management of ArchCru itself, failings that intermediaries couldn’t possibly have foreseen? The same goes for KeyData.

    For APFA to claim to have “taken on every issue of relevance” simply doesn’t wash.

  9. Neil Liversidge 12th June 2015 at 4:10 pm

    @ Alan: There is only one word to describe your accusation, and it rhymes approximately with rowlocks.

  10. Julian Stevens 13th June 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Neil ~ Rather than being any sort of trail blazer, APFA is widely considered to be a disappointingly damp squib. And now, with the loss of a significant portion of its funding from Sesame and OpenWork, APFA’s financial position must surely be in doubt, despite efforts to play down its impact. How can you expect anyone to believe that the losses of Sesame and OpenWork are no big deal and that from here on it’ll just be business as usual? That said, APFA’s business as usual style is a large part of its problem.

    I would be more sympathetic to your calls for more members and more money were APFA to draw up and publish a considerably more robust and confidence-inspiring manifesto so we can see just what it would do with these things were it to get them. APFA is fatally dogged by lack of confidence and credibility on the part of those whose support it seeks to court and I cannot see how it’s likely to attract more members unless or until it grasps the nettle and addresses this. I really wish it would. It’s not just a malaise of apathy amongst the intermediary community, though I readily agree that there’s far too much of that and that those unwilling to commit to APFA (or now Libertatem) have no right to bitch about the FCA et al on the discussion forums. Such people should either put up or shut up.

    Do you agree with this or are you implacaby convinced that APFA’s strategy is correct and doesn’t need substantially beefing up? Please tell us.

    The scope for winning any concessions from the FCA merely by writing articles and arranging endless meetings with them is, as everyone knows, severely limited. Occasional sound-bites such as APFA calls on the FCA to… or APFA demands that the FCA… are just a waste of time. Is there a shred of evidence to suggest that the FCA takes the slightest notice of such calls and demands?

    And, as I’ve asked before on several occasions, if the FCA can (as it frequently does) casually reject all and any proposals put to it by the TSC (such as reimbursing the intermediary community the £118m we were overcharged by the FSA), on just what grounds can APFA possibly believe that it’s likely to be treated any differently, however cogently it may present its case? It’s not going to happen, is it? Wake up and smell the coffee, Neil. APFA needs to change. How can you not see this?

  11. @ Neil Liversedge – there are many things that I might be or have been called but a liar is not one of them.

  12. Still awaiting your response Neil.

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