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Positive action

Industry feedback to the retail distribution review has been negative, yet one thing that has become abundantly clear to me as I have gone round the country talking to IFAs over recent weeks is that very few seem to have actually read the document.

Most admit to having gleaned their insights from newspaper articles and based their opinions on conjecture and gossip. I cannot help but think that for a review with such important implications for IFAs and for financial advice, these admissions are more than a little disappointing.

The timely arrival of another report from Which? should remind us that we still have a long way to go before we achieve the level of professionalism that we should all be aspiring to.

It is all very well that the Which? researchers who visited 21 IFAs and 19 bank and building society advisers should have concluded that independent advisers were better at giving investment advice than their tied counterparts – based on the fact that more than two-thirds of tied advisers failed its benchmarks for good advice while more than half the IFAs tested came up to scratch – but neither result is one in which the industry can take any real pride.

Which? magazine editor Neil Fowler is quoted as saying: “On the whole, you will get better advice from an independent financial adviser, as you will have more choice, but be clear about the advice you need, contact at least three advisers and check their qualifications and charges up front.”

That the situation should have improved year on year is a step in the right direction but there is still significant room for heightened professionalism and improvement.

The reason that the RDR was set in train in the first place was because the status quo is simply not good enough. Ours is still not a consumer-friendly profession. We continue to fall short when it comes to delivering quality of service to the public and it is because of this that we should not be surprised that our approach and methods should come under scrutiny one more time.

We need to recognise that although the RDR may be challenging the ways things are currently done, it does not necessarily mean that things are going to be totally swept aside. Our experience at the Chartered Insurance Institute and PFS is that the FSA is willing to listen to our views and those of our members over the RDR. The regulator has made it plain that it wants an open dialogue so some of the myths that have been spreading about the content of the RDR can be exploded.

But it is also up to advisers to be prepared to articulate clearly and precisely what it is we do, how we are already raising our game and what our plans are.

We need to focus our ideas and package them in such a way that we can provide positive, considered and constructive input into the RDR process so that the FSA is fully aware of what we want to achieve.

We will be producing a series of position papers in the coming weeks. It is our intention to present the views of professional advisers in such a way that they will lend shape and substance in a wholly practical way to the future direction of this industry. Things will change. It is our role to ensure they do so for the better.

Tim Eadon is chief executive of the Personal Finance Society

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