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Profile: Libertatem’s Garry Heath on launching a trade body

Garry Heath, Director General of Libertatem, photographed in central London. Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

Joining a new trade body requires a leap of faith, admits Garry Heath, director general of Libertatem. Indeed, convincing advisers to join an organisation before it has the funding to deliver results is just one of the challenges facing Libertatem following its launch in May.

But Heath is confident the trade body will achieve its target of signing up 1,000 firms in the first 15 months. He says: “We know it will take time and I don’t expect to be really motoring until Christmas.

“IFAs tend to look at things jadedly and take a ‘we’ll see’ approach. But I believe when we get out and meet advisers they will come to the party.”

Libertatem is open to independent and restricted advisers, and is aimed at directly authorised firms. The organisation hopes to raise £1m in its first 15 months.

Heath says the scale of the challenge is less daunting as he has “done it before”, having headed up the IFA Association between 1989 and 1999. However, he recognises that the advice sector has changed a great deal in the past 25 years.

“A lot of advisers will have been in short trousers when I was running a trade association last time, so I need to get in front of them and explain what we are about,” he says.

The IFA Association was formed as the Financial Services Act came into force in 1988.

Heath says: “I was an IFA at the time and no one knew what regulation was all about. A number of local groups were established, which merged to form the IFA Association.”

During his time at the IFA Association, Heath says he did a lot to weed out unscrupulous advisers.

He explains: “People say to me, ‘you’ll protect any IFA that’s moving’. But I had my ear to the ground better than the regulator and if we received information about advisers who were doing the wrong thing, we would pass it on.

“I have never taken the view that regulation is evil but it has to be concentrated on protecting the public.”

Heath argues that the current market needs a more accountable regulator.

He says: “The major issue is that until we can get some accountability back into the regulatory system, representation is very difficult. The FCA has just increased advisers’ fees by 10 per cent but what can you do about it if the FCA is not accountable to anyone?

“At long last, we have an open door with a Conservative majority and Andrew Tyrie back in his seat at the Treasury select committee. Tyrie is keen to introduce legislation which would make the FCA more accountable and I want to help him by giving examples of where regulation has gone wrong.”

Heath cites the RDR as one such example.

“Some IFAs will say the RDR hasn’t done them any harm, and if you want to run your business in a new model way that’s great,” he says. “But those who think ‘I’m all right Jack’ fail to see that as other IFAs exit the market, the cost of regulation will be shared across a much smaller number.

“Not all advisers live in West One. If you go to places like Cardiff, the client profile is completely different and many will not pay fees.”

Heath believes simplified advice is not the answer to the advice gap, due to unresolved issues over liabilities.

Instead, he proposes a return to some form of commission, which he says would allow those who cannot afford to pay for advice upfront to spread the cost of fees.

He says: “The regulator’s argument against commission was not that it existed but that there were differential rates which determined which adviser got what business.

“We could come up with a single price system for a group of advisers, which would prevent providers from buying business.

“The fee could be added to the cost of the product and paid off by the customer over the long term. It could be collected by the provider or by a trade association as a direct debit.”

But before he can get to work on developing detailed policy proposals, Heath is focused on more pressing matters, such as growing Libertatem’s headcount beyond a director general.

“The first month has been about finding an office and having initial conversations with advisers. In the next few months we will look to hire administrative staff and a research and policy team. Getting the right people is really important – they will certainly need to understand the industry.”

Heath says Libertatem has been speaking to providers and fund managers about helping to fund the organisation.

“Providers are very concerned about the shrinking size of the sector they distribute through,” he says.

“Our conversations with advisers so far can be summed up as: ‘Thank God somebody’s doing something.’ They also want reassurance that I am not going to go native but there is no danger of that.”

Heath says advisers have been “relaxed” about Libertatem’s fees.

He adds: “It’s not that DAs refuse to pay for representation; it’s that they don’t want to join Apfa because it is not seen to be fighting for the industry.

“I had 17,000 firms as members at the IFA Association. Our big challenge is that many of them have got used to not paying, so we need to persuade them this is worth it.”

Five questions

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

Do not ruin your health by trying to please everybody – most of them will not come to your funeral.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?

Pension liberty: great idea, appalling delivery.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing for 360 nights a year – for the other five nights my brain spins like a cement mixer. So I get up and work until I feel like sleeping.

If I were in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Concentrate on doing a few things well rather than, as currently, lots badly.

Any advice for new advisers?

Ask yourself: have I done my best for my client?  Once the answer is yes, deal with the compliance.

CV

Present: Director general, Libertatem

2006-2012: Managing director, Life Change

2003-2006: Executive chairman, Special Risks Bureau

2001-2003: Executive chairman, The Impartial Group

1999-2001: Chief executive, Portfolio Member Services

1989-1999: Director general, IFA Association

1986-1989: Chief executive, Heathland Financial Guidance

1985-1986: Underwriter, Imperial Life

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Comments

There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Garry, I do wish you well with your new trade body. I also wish you the best of luck, as my experience back in the 70’sand 80’s was that the regulator heard but didn’t listen and simply paid polite lip service to any ideas not initiated from within their “closed shop”.

    You may recall and I certainly can, when we all received the same commission from each Insurance company and we always offered the correct product to our clients. The regulator at the time decided this was anti-competitive and despite protestations from we at the “sharp” end, they changed the system to a commission free for all. Those who have subsequently advocated fee charging on the basis that the previous range of differing commissions was unfair on the consumer, should have first read their history.

    An average family with basic Life Assurance and Savings needs is not going to pay a fee to obtain advice and the IFA is not going to have various meetings, some out of office hours, for such business without some form of sensible compensation. The result is short term-ism from IFA’s entirely due to regulatory mismanagement, a lack of protection for the smaller client who may possibly therefore be more reliant on the state in the future and the current advice gap you mention above.

    You said that “Providers are very concerned about the shrinking size of the sector they distribute through.” In the period mentioned above, I always blamed the providers for not fighting harder for their supporting IFA’s, so whilst they may now be concerned, that particular horse has already left the stable.

    We cannot change the past, but it is what has produced the current situation.

    Yours ever optimistically!

  2. I want to ask advisers a question – What is going to trigger you to get off your knees, unite and start to push back?

    FCA costs have gone up 10% again this year. Up 10 times since 2003. The FOS charges the sector 11% of its costs despite advisers representing 2 in 1,000 of its successful cases and the FSCS pays out like Father Christmas.

    The FCA can interfere in every aspect of your business, how you are paid and very soon what you are paid. It can destroy your firm’s value, Define what you can call yourself and what you can offer your clients.

    It can and will be changed. Libertatem has the team to start pushing the ratchet back . The Tory Government spent a lot of electoral collateral pushing its deregulation and advisers need a strong voice in that initiative.

    The Treasury Select Committee is demanding new legislation to make the F’s more accountable.

    The time is now. Not sometime in the future.

    Go to http://www.libertatem.org.uk and join today – help us restore pride in the sector

  3. Please join Garry’s new organisation.

    APFA failed through lack of bottle, Gill Cardy through lack of funds and a too focused approach.

    Don’t let Garry’s venture fail through apathy or indifference.

  4. Christopher Petrie 15th July 2015 at 4:27 pm

    I’m afraid this organisation sounds too much like “grumpy old men” to me. Things have changed and most IFAs have adapted (that’s why they still survive).

    Banging on about bringing back commission is just such a non-starter, it just seems a totally poor choice of initial campaign. Why not spend their time explaining to Press like The Telegraph why advice on pension freedoms cost so much and why many IFAs won’t do it for any price? Stand up for IFAs in a positive way, not make us seem like dinosaurs (when only a minority are these days).

  5. The issue is regulatory fees. If the FSCS levy keeps rising like it does there will be 100 advisers left one day all receiving a bill for £3m each. It’s getting daft.

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