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Protection is the cornerstone of financial planning

Many years ago, a client told me: “I know all about life assurance Len. My first husband died, leaving me with a two-year-old, a four-year-old, a mortgage and no life cover.”

Those children became adults but sadly within the last two years she herself died and recently her second husband died. Along the way, advice was given and decisions made against life’s sometimes cruel circumstances. For example, should he draw a joint annuity, knowing his wife was terminally ill?

As chairman of the panel that introduced minimum training and competence standards for financial advice I know very well the value of testing knowledge, on-the-job-training and continuous professional education. Practical experience comes from the lessons that real people give us. Theoretical case studies can be like answering all the questions on Who Wants to be a Millionaire from the comfort of your armchair. Now do it in the studio where it counts. In his last illness the daughter was told by my client “When I go, just see Len Warwick. He’ll sort it out.” That is for real.

Last Christmas, another long-standing client had a massive heart attack and died. His wife had similarly been told years ago to see me “when anything happens”.

These kind of situations put our lives in perspective and provide a feeling of pride in the job we do and there should be no shame in saying so.

The point I am making is that we might be pre-occupied with the payment menu, A-Day, and all kinds of regulatory and market initiatives but we must remember the fundamentals within our own jobs as advisers or we will be in danger of thinking that our job is to comply with rules – whereas it is to advise compliantly in line with those rules. There is a difference.

Put a couple of financial advisers together and sooner or later one will ask “How are you getting on with the menu?”

I have heard a range of answers – clients are overloaded with things they do not read, if it was meant to help consumers compare different firms, the “maximum” does not help as it may not be the actual rate charged, the maximum compared with an industry average is flawed if they do not compare like with like.

The first month of the menu saw me dealing with some protection claims and I reflected that the effecting of various policies was not the result of clients doing an in-depth analysis of whether the commission earned was above or below an industry average. In one case, the commission paid represented less than 0.5 per cent of the amount paid to the widow. I don’t suppose that the widow was concerned that her husband had received a business card, terms of business letter, illustration, key features, key facts etc and I am certain they would not be as important for her to find on a file as a suitable in-force policy.

However we know we must be compliant and if clients gain more confidence as a result of openness it has to be beneficial to our industry and our own individual busin-esses. Additionally, if it gives the chance to talk about our services, our research, our training, that too is confidence-building and very much to the benefit of our client relationships.

My only regret is that in the interests of providing detail we give a lorry load of paper for, sometimes, the simplest of transactions. I do wonder whether we look at the reality of what happens in a client interview from the client’s point of view.

Prince Charles once accused architects of designing to impress fellow professionals rather than considering a building’s use or its visual appeal.

If we feel that we are overloading consumers with, often duplicated information, we must hope that, in time, the regulator will examine how it is working – from a consumer perspective.

I am certain our number one objective as financial advisers is to ensure our clients, their families and businesses can continue with a secure standard of living whatever happens – therefore protection is the cornerstone of all financial planning.

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