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Playing fast and loose in US

Travel is meant to broaden the mind and, as I near the end of my annual pilgrimage to the US for the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference, I thought I should share my reflections.

There is no doubt that the Americans are ahead of us in respect of advances in investment marketing and analysis but we win hands down in respect of compliance and regulation.

Luckily, the compliance and regulation guys have started to swap notes so even the US may benefit from the ideas and con- cepts first floated in UK.

There is an ongoing battle in the US over a rule which allows some of the bigger players to play fast and loose with disclosure. The FPA has already won over the public but the SEC is proving to be intransigent.

The issue has some resonance here as some of the major firms have not quite got the hang of financial planning being a service and not just another product line. There is no question that depolarisation has handed the banks the biggest opportunity in the mass market they have ever had but the big question is can they capitalise on it?

On a highly positive note, the introduction of the Chartered Financial Planner title gives us a real opportunity to point the potential client in the correct direction when it comes to professional advice.

I believe that, in time, where a firm’s principals make no effort to reach chartered status, they will not be able to stand the pace in the high-net-worth sector. If principals are only qualified to FPC level, can they really inspire those IFAs whose validated knowledge is at or above the benchmark level?

I have always maintained that CP121 and the defined payment agreement would reappear by a combination of market pressure and consumer demand. The transparency of the charge for advice is essential if the profession is to prosper.

As deliberations continue on the definition of generic advice, the FSA needs to keep in mind that we now have a multiplicity of layers of advice and a multiplicity of types of adviser.

When you get to the point that consumer education is needed, not to explain financial products or the individual’s needs but to explain what type of advi- ser he is seeing and what level of advice he will have offered to him, you have potentially lost the plot.

The most important fact to any client is who is the adviser working for? Is it the company they represent or is it the individual taking their advice? If it is not the latter, they need to be on the guard as the adviser is acting for some- one but it is not them.

Don’t get me wrong, we need different advice levels and we need different levels of competency. But – and it is a big but – we must ensure that the client has enough easily accessible information to pick the right adviser for them.

The other issue is the ability for the client to move from multi-tied to IFA and back to the IFA. The latter is not currently permitted.

Provided the client knows exactly who they are dealing with and what to expect in the way of service and outcome, they can proceed with the confid- ence that they know exactly what is going on.

Being in such warm climes is very pleasant but the thought of returning to the autumnal colours of England is a lot more appealing than the creep of regulation will be for my US counterparts.


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