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Pete Matthew: Does the FCA need to tighten the definition of ‘adviser’?

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If someone asks what I do, I say that I am a financial planner. This usually provokes a questioning look because most people in the UK have no idea what that means.

I do this not only to spark a conversation but also because I have found that when I say I am a financial adviser, some fear I will try and sell them an endowment.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of names that advisers have given themselves.

We have had financial architects, life planners, financial life planners, registered life planners, money mentors, money coaches, wealth managers – the list goes on.

I imagine this is largely driven by marketing and the need to differentiate ourselves from the crowd. The public (I imagine) has a stereotype of the average financial adviser as being a middle-aged male in a cheap suit occupying a bland office somewhere. 

We have perpetuated this image by building identikit websites and company logos and, unfortunately, by being exactly what the stereotype suggests, for the most part.

I have had conversations with people so evangelically committed to the title of financial planner that
I had the feeling they would happily torch my house if I did not toe their particular line. 

At the same time, I have met financial planners who deride the term financial adviser as being somehow inferior to their
chosen moniker.

Let’s stop for a second and ask where the client fits into all this. Yes, the client. Remember them? Sometimes in our professional introspection we neglect the very people we are here to serve.

My hunch is the average client could not care less about what we call ourselves. 

When speaking to their friends – hopefully in glowing terms – they will still refer to us as their financial adviser or their finance chap/lady but never as their wealth architect guru because they worry they will sound stupid.

In my daydream version of how that conversation will go, I imagine my clients telling their friends about how I have reviewed their plans religiously every six months for the last 10 years and that I know more about them than their kids do.

 Maybe they will comment on my easy-going nature and startling ability to explain complex financial concepts in easy-to-understand language. 

But the subject of what I call myself does not even feature because they do not care about that.

Those of us who dabble online will have had LinkedIn requests from people calling themselves financial advisers, only to click through and discover they actually work for a pawnbroker or payday lender. 

If it is that easy for imposters to call themselves advisers, how is a member of the public supposed to tell the difference?

I wonder if now the regulator should consult on this issue? It has recently clarified the independent versus restricted labels and now I think they should look to impose some set of standards that ensure only qualified advisers can call themselves…fill in  the blank.

 The professional bodies need to push past their corporate preferences and work together to tighten this up, not for our sake but for the sake of those who really matter in all this – the general public.

Pete Matthew is managing director of Jacksons Wealth Management creator of the MeaningfulMoney and Advisertech

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Comments

There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Given FCA’s comments today about disclosure I am certain that the FCA do not understand what advice is!

  2. Pete, for Chrit’s sake keep the FCA away from this. Look at the total b*lls up they made with the modern day thinking of what independent should look like. Lets be honest if they have to have road shows to explain their thinking and show us what we need to da to demonstrate (not to the client as clients dont matter in the eyes of the FCA) but to them when they come along to do their visits. It is just adding to their armoury of things that they can say “tut tut adviser X that is not what we meant at all. Take a slapped wrist and dont be a nuaghty boy again. Oh by the way geeza a wad of cash into the bargin”. They live in cukoo land. I used to have a bit of respect for Martin Wheatley until he said that in his view “Advice can be delivered without ANY human interaction”. Guidence? Yes absolutely, Decision trees leading to final destination? Totally. Advice? No chance. How can any computer have meaningful discussion around attitude to risk and capacity for loss? Ask the follow on questions we do when the client says something that we dont quite agree with based on their feelings from earlier in the fact find. How can the computer advise on specific funds that are sutuable for the client? It cant and as all of this needs advice it sort of QED’s itself. The lunatics really are running the asylum. IMHO

  3. The FCA can’t do anything that would not be acceptable in Europe – where adviser can mean bank sales person.

  4. @Marty – Agree with everything you say, pretty much, though I may not feel as strong. I certainly agree that there will always be a need for human advice, but I’m not convinced it has to be face-to-face. Video conferencing technology is improving all the time; I now see many of my clients via Skype.

    Maybe having the FCA regulate the titles we can give ourselves is a bad adviser. But we’re making a pig’s ear of it ourselves currently…

  5. I think most “advisers” have struggled with the correct moniker to label themselves, all their working lives. On the face of it.. and by definition…most if not all our products have to be “sold” rather than “being sought”, so I imagine that the vast majority still think of us principally as “sales men or women” (hence perhaps the back office and cheap suit analogy). Of course there are those who do genuinely appreciate what we do and value our service and I am proud to say that over the years the vast majority of my clients fall into the quality category, though it has taken almost 30 years to build it, but in every day life for every one of those their are 10 who we come across who would (for their own historically reasoning) prefer to still think of us as someone out to “sell them something”. Old habits die hard… it may take a generation before the public start to think of us in the same light as the other traditional professional practitioners. It will come one day . I agree the arguments over what to call ourselves doesn’t really help.

    Good morning My name is John Smith I am a restricted financial adviser. Hmmm.. In a business relationship that is totally dependent on trust that has such a positive ring about it don’t you think?

  6. Wealth manager – financial planner – all pretentious titles. What do you think an IFA does? Usually helps to manage wealth and certainly plans. I have been an IFA since FIMBRA coined the phrase, I’m not ashamed of it and my clients certainly understand what it’s about.

    The last thing we want is for the regulator to start on definitions. They made enough of a mess of the Restricted/Independent definition. It isn’t rocket science – either you are independent or you are not. All the fancy titles only seek to blur the distinction and the Regulator doesn’t police it that well anyway. If they were really serious about it the status would be mentioned on the FCA register.

    The FCA daft excuse is that it is up to firms to disclose (ha ha!) and that they are not going to do this for some perverse, daft reason.

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