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Opportunity for Aifa to take a new path

Nick Cicutti
Nick Cicutti

If there is one thing I have learned about Chris Cummings in the past couple of days it is that he must be a very good poker player.
Only a few weeks ago, I interviewed him in depth for an article in Money Marketing. At that stage, he must already have been holding talks, if only preliminary ones, with TheCityUK, the new membership body which aims to promote the UK-based financial and professional services industry.

I would never have guessed this was the case and, for so leaky an industry, news of his appointment did not seep out until a formal announcement needed to be made last week. That is quite something.

In leaving Aifa after five years, Chris is continuing in the tradition of Paul Smee, who stayed for a similar period of time before moving on to the Association for Payment Clearing Services. Maybe that is about as long as anyone can take in representing an IFA sector that is never very clear about what it wants – only what it doesn’t.

After this time at the helm of Aifa – and the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries before that – tributes will be paid to Chris. Chief among them is the observation that he was a skilled negotiator. Money Marketing editor Paul McMillan is right to point out that his “restrained diplomacy” probably won IFAs many more victories than they may have realised.

The big question now is who should replace Chris at the helm of Aifa. This is where things get interesting. So far, the discussion seems to be whether the next person will be internal candidate or external, from another trade or professional body or perhaps even a big IFA or network.

If that is as far as the debate goes, a historic opportunity will be missed, not so much to find the right person but, much more important, to really change the role that Aifa has in the wider world – and the role of the IFAs it represents.

For years now, since Paul Smee replaced Garry Heath, Aifa has operated on the basis of what most people would assume are “responsible” discussions and negotiations with the FSA, the Treasury and, increasingly, in Brussels.

At one level, that makes sense. For all the excitement that Garry brought to the role at Nfifa, his bombastic comments and perceived obstructionism with regard to the SIB-inspired personal pension review tended to isolate IFAs at a time when they needed friends. Bringing Aifa down to earth was seen as essential by key parts of the industry prepared to fund a more “responsible” type of trade body.

The problem now is that after 10 years of calm, generally dispassionate, behind-closed-doors style of operating, most people assume it is the only game in town, hence the focus on individual candidates rather than trying to map out a totally new direction for Aifa.

Where would I like to see the leading trade body for IFAs heading towards? The most important change I want is passion for independent financial advice, shouted loudly and from the rooftops, as an alternative to the bank and insurance-based selling practices that have cost consumers so dearly.

But that passion also means zero tolerance for anything that might stand in the way of consumers identifying with IFAs as their protectors in a harsh financial world. Aifa needs to be firmly at the forefront of raising standards for advisers and for the immediate expulsion from the industry of those who fail to meet those standards. Aifa must become synonymous with quality, professionalism, dedication and total commitment to consumers.

From that platform and that platform only, it will then be possible for Aifa to defend IFAs against accusations that they are only in it for the money, that they are “just salespeople”.

The only way you can defend your sector appropriately is if you can demonstrate that you and the members you represent are totally above reproach.

That is a lesson, ironically, that Paul Smee and one or two other Aifa representatives were taught in 2004 when they where monstered by theTreasury select committee over a variety of issues, including the liquidation of Berry Birch & Noble, the assumed lack of ethics of the industry, as well as the complexity of product structure.

Many people at the time felt the MPs’ criticism was unfair but it was Aifa’s contradictory role that put Paul in that position.
The path I am proposing is totally at odds with the one that will seem easiest to follow for the majority of those who will be appointing a successor to Chris Cummings.

The temptation will be to go for more of the same. And it’s true that another “Cummingsmee” chief executive is not the worst that can happen to Aifa.

But it would mean passing up an opportunity to do something much more meaningful for and with the IFA sector.

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

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Comments

There are 9 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. There was nothing ‘dispassionate’ about Chris our Paul, I found them both to be very passionate about the role of IFAs in society and they would defend them to the ends of the earth. The previous government on the other hand hated IFAs with a vengeance and it had friends, the banks who also wanted to get rid of the thorn(s) in their side. There is more but I must go.

  2. since when did you care what happens to the IFA sector nic?

  3. Nick Bombastic Cicutti calls kettle black! 25th June 2010 at 3:36 pm

    With regard to Gary Heath and the pension review you accuse him of: “bombastic comments and perceived obstructionism”. Contrary to your own bombastic school of journalism, Garys stance did not isolate him but rather showed to be a man of principle who stood up for what was right in spite of the chattering class that you seem a prime example of. Perhaps it is due to your own public sector background that you will will never understand why small individuals need to stand against the big state!

  4. Cicutti fan club 25th June 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I refuse to comment of any Cicutti article – he has no place in this paper and I encourage other IFA’s to black him and any speaking engagement that might take money out of an IFA pocket and put it in his !

  5. Re Cicutti fan club @ 5.14
    Completely agree. We may have no control over the mad gits at the FSA but we can boycott anything wind up merchant cicutti has to say.
    just stop reading anything he writes and he will soon be out of a job. No hits on his rants will result in him being consigned to the scrapheap.
    Power to IFAs

  6. I have always thought that the job Chris did was most difficult. When you think about it the IFA community is just so diverse how can it truly be represented by one body? I accept there is common ground across the intermediary sector but the needs of each IFA firm and individual are just so different.

    What I think Chris (and Paul before him) did so well was to try and find that common ground and lobby hard for what they thought was right for their members.

    This may well have bought them into conflict with Government and Regulator alike but part of representing a group is to argue their case when ever it is needed.

    Nic may well be right though that the AIFA of the future needs to be different it will definitely need to shout about the value of true independent and impartial financial advice but it will need to do that for a group of IFAs whose similarities are greater than their differences.

    I have never been a member of AIFA it wasn’t something that I could see would represent me but I do think it represented its members very well

  7. Cicutti Fan Club gains another member 28th June 2010 at 12:49 pm

    I too would blank the FSA I would. But second best is to blank Cicutti and encourgage IFAs to do the same. I would wrap fish and chips up in his artricles!

  8. That is cruelty to fish

  9. Good to see Cicutti getting the praise he deserves

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