As the new chair of the FCA’s smaller business practitioner panel, Clinton Askew recognises he has a difficult balance to strike.
“The role of the panel is to act as a critical friend and ask probing questions without being overly aggressive,” he explains.
“You could quite easily turn every meeting with the FCA into a hatchet job but that doesn’t do anybody any favours. We want to be influencers, absolutely, but we have to recognise there is a limit to our influence.”
Askew has been a member of the panel since 2009 and was appointed as chair in February for a two-year term.
He says the FCA panels are “much more influential” than many in the industry believe.
“I think the panels are largely unsung. They go below the radar, particularly the smaller business panel because it does not have any profile at all, unlike the consumer panel which is much more vocal,” he says.
The smaller business panel has had numerous wins, he says, including shaping the development of the RDR, urging the FCA to reconsider the independent and restricted advice labels, and pushing back the implementation of more onerous capital adequacy rules.
“The FCA gets a lot of bad press and is viewed by some as having its own agenda,” says Askew.
“But the regulator’s thinking does not go unchallenged. What people don’t know is that the panel does a lot to act as a check and balance on the FCA’s proposals. We are always looking at whether regulations are proportionate and will deliver the intended outcomes.”
Askew started his career as a marketing assistant at Shell but quickly realised he was a “small cog” in a large organisation and left to join Canada Life’s sales team.
He joined the financial advice sector in 1988, as part of family business Rolton Associates, and 16 years later set up his current firm Citywide Financial Partners.
“I decided in 2003 that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, so I started Citywide with the intention of being deliberately different to everything that existed at the time,” he says. “We have always been fee based and focused on advice rather than products. We were RDR compliant before anybody had even thought about RDR.”
Askew says setting up Citywide, which targets clients with between £1m and £10m, was a “massive learning curve”.
He says: “We initially did the financial planning up front and it would take us at least six months to get any money on board. Our cash flow was going through the floor, until 18 months in when I had a light bulb moment and realised I had got the process wrong. I changed the process around to put the investment consulting piece at the front end and we were off.”
Askew was invited to join the smaller business panel as he was a regional director at Apfa’s predecessor Aifa at the time and was keen to become more involved with the regulator in the lead up to the RDR.
The panel covers small businesses from all sectors and meets with the FCA every month. Askew says it welcomes input from the industry: “We are in touch with the trade associations regularly and I am happy to meet individuals if they want to bounce around ideas.”
High on his agenda as chair is to continue to pursue the industry’s campaign for a long-stop on complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
He says: “One of the things I feel passionately about is that there is a lot of talk about consumer rights, but not a lot of talk about consumers taking responsibility for their decisions.
“In the past the panel has put a lot of effort into talking to the FOS and challenging its thinking. Apfa has put the long-stop firmly back on the agenda and I am personally keen to pursue that.”
The panel will also be focused on capital adequacy rules for advice firms due to come in at the end of the year.
The FCA is expected to publish a consultation paper on the proposals, which have been delayed three times, in the coming months.
Askew says: “We want the outcome to this to be that good, professional firms are not put out of business. The FCA is alive to those concerns.”
He argues advisers should be more engaged with regulation, particularly that coming from Europe.
“European regulation is not something advisers are particularly alive to,” he says. “But when you look at directives like Mifid II, you realise there is a significant desire from Europe to influence and shape advice.
“I know it’s tough running a business but if I had a wish it would be that the adviser community engages with these regulations more proactively.”
Askew says the advice industry has “grown up” in recent years and has an opportunity to negotiate a different form of regulation.
He says: “There is an opportunity for the adviser community to show the FCA it can act responsibly and the regulator needs to find a different way of engaging with firms that is not about the big stick approach.
“In the same way we have continuing professional development, we could have continuous regulatory development where senior managers have to attend regular courses with the FCA.
“I don’t think the ‘be afraid’ comments from the regulator have been helpful in the past. But a hearts and minds approach could bring about real cultural change.”
2004-present: Managing director, Citywide Financial Partners
1988-2003: Partner, Rolton Associates
1981-86: Sales executive, Canada Life
1980-81: Marketing assistant, Shell Transport & Trading
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
The advice I was given on starting my own business: “You’ve made the decision, now you just have to make it the right decision”.
What has had the most significant impact on advice in the past year?
The Budget reforms, which have placed pensions firmly in consumers’ minds.
What keeps you awake at night?
Losing the business because of something that happened 30 years ago.
If I were in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Congratulate the many people who work tirelessly at the FCA, often without recognition for the good that they do.
Any advice for new advisers?
Act with integrity, think long term and stand in your client’s shoes when you make decisions.