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Questions of clarity

As a product of the comprehensive education system, I feel well

placed to comment on any initiative where people of mixed ability are

pushed together. The reality of this educational method is that, with

the exception of the first year, there is little in the way of

mixed-ability classes.

This is not rebellion on the part of the schools, it simply reflects

that, as matters become more complex, innate ability either comes to

the fore or it does not. As the physics master covering latent heat

explained to a less than able student, “You have latent intelligence,

that means it&#39s hid-den”. After a pause in which the student smiled,

he continued “but in your case it&#39s so well hidden it&#39s never likely

to be uncovered.”

There seems to be an assumption at large that the level of advice

needed is directly proportional to someone&#39s income, with the lower

income being aligned to advice from the least competent adviser. This

is incorrect – but so is the idea that financial advice should have

the end objective of product purchase at all times.

At the recent Money Marketing Top 100 Summit, one of the sponsors

correctly identified that we as IFAs have been the main carriers of

the sole message,in brochures and advertisements, that independence

equates to access to the whole market of products. The message that

advice can bring peace of mind to the client or align their plans and

goals is too rarely seen or regularly promoted.

The best service that an adviser can provide to a client is one which

brings clarity to their position. The advisers who operate the filter

questions will need to be skilled if they are to be able to ensure

that the clients understand what is being asked. Often, clients can

misunderstand the question and those advisers must be able to clarify


In the early days of the pension review, I took part in a Securities

and Investment Board-sponsored survey where we had to interview

pension transfer clients using a strict script while accompanied by a


One meeting in particular is a vivid memory. I asked the client if he

was married – he said he was. The original fact-find said not, so I

asked the permission of my minder to clarify. The client then said:

“I wasn&#39t when I transferred”.

I then asked him if he was a smoker – he said “no”. The original

fact-find said yes – on questioning, he then admitted he had given up

two weeks ago.

What this proves is that people will answer their interpretation of a

question. Without further questions which validate earlier responses,

incorrect conclusions can be made.

Questioners will need interpersonal skills that would elude many call

centre staff. The idea that lower-paid staff can operate eff-ectively

using filter questions is unsound.

That is not to say they need to be highly technically competent –

they do not – but they must be able to engage the client in a way

that the risk of misinterpretation is rare and not the norm.

The latent element that advisers need to reach with clients is their

appreciation that planning for retirement or any other event is not a

one-off. They must invest time if they are to benefit in the long


Simply explaining products and their features will not reduce the

savings gap. Ensuring that the public understand the alternatives

will – but only if the Government makes it clear that everyone has to

take responsibility for their future. The phrase “too much

information” simply does not apply.

Products should always be the last thing on the advisers mind – not the first.


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