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Political times

The general election countdown has well and truly started. The next is due by spring 2010 so is it a bit early to say it has begun? Just look at the dirty tricks campaign that Gordon Brown, Labour and various puppets have been trying to distance themselves from.

What has this got to do with our market? It is time for us to get political. Never mix business and politics was the old mantra but in case you have not noticed, our industry is now almost completely state-run.

It is impossible to work in our market and not have an opinion now, so where do we start?

Knock off the easy choices. The Tories have pledged to scrap home information packs and its new offspring property information questionnaires. On top of this, the Tories want to disband the FSA and consolidate the Bank of England’s rightful place at the heart of good governance.

Any votes against either of these two proposals? While Hips are unloved, what of the FSA?

The FSA continues to treat our industry with contempt. We (and I think they at least concede this one) know their past mistakes which have led directly to the mess we are in now. Remember, if they had acted quicker with more (or any) intelligence, the economy would not have to go south as far as it has.

More damning is their ongoing incompetence. Forget the lavish Christmas parties, big bonuses and pay rises. No, it is their refusal to act decisively in our market. Are they afraid, uninformed or just happy to sit on the sidelines while the market itself continues to implode and rids the FSA of the need to do anything?

Principals not paying their appointed representatives? Er, hello FSA? Their response, no comment. The return of conditional selling? The Abbey’s plan to insist that a mortgage client take out another Abbey product whether it is appropriate or not? The Abbey call it product bun-dling (is this the FSA-sanctioned name for it?) and we know it as conditional selling. So come on FSA, what is the ruling? Are product providers now allowed to insist that a client has to buy what they determine and it is the regulated intermediary that, by signing off the regulatory requirement, is then on the hook for misselling when the FSA gets enough consumer complaints in the future? I should add I am not anti-Abbey, far from it – it is just that we need to know how the new rules work, FSAWhile Rome burns, the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries condones the Abbey conditional (sorry, bundled) selling, not only putting their members at risk by not highlighting potential regulatory issues but also defending it on the basis that it is more important to have as many AMI members paying their annual subscription come the end of the year. Is the AMI now part of the problem?

Unfortunately, the aspect of politics is everywhere you turn now. Take Barclays’ latest antics. Their direct salesforce has been advising clients to cash in Isas, bonds, etc and reinvest in a wonder product.

Is it any wonder that IFAs are beginning to feel like an endangered species? Imagine if it was them doing this, not Barclays. Again, I suspect the FSA would have been a bit more vocal – after all, the last thing the FSA will do at the moment is anything to put at risk one of the few banks remaining.

It is time to get political, and get your trade bodies in line. You have no choice, your industry is under threat. Say nothing, collude and hope you are one of the few left? Be one of the very few on the inside of the latest HSBC charitable donations to the broker market? Wake up and smell the coffee.

Michael Bolton is former chief executive of Edeus


Sea change

One of the great Bob Dylan’s songs proclaimed “The times, they are a-changin’,” and anyone who contemplates the current world of regulation will know that’s true – and then some. But I’m not talking about regulation’s impact on firms, let alone the clients they serve, but about the structure of regulation and the bodies who regulate the industry.


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