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Register office

PIMS has been and gone and the world has been put to rights. The market now awaits the findings of the FSA with the retail distribution implementation plan consultation paper.

People are hopeful for different things but, whatever the outcome, the clock is ticking and the need for change even greater.

It concerns me that the call for no change rests on the argument that no or few complaints mean the business is sound. Does the fact I have no speeding points on my licence prove I do not speed?

I have spoken to a number of firms that have bemoaned the heavy spend on treating customers fairly to keep the regulator happy. When asked whether these changes have led to better businesses, the answer has been a resounding yes.

It is troubling to hear an adviser say he would love to do more research or client surveys but is too busy serving the client. There is a need for many of the changes being proposed and, although painful, positive results are now being seen.

The Institute of Financial Planning is worried that the consultation paper will not genuinely benefit the consumer and encourage greater engagement with the profession. It is therefore important to consider the notion of a registered financial planning firm.

This is not intended to challenge other initiatives but rather embrace them with a more formulaic approach, as opposed to a marketing-led one, offering the consumer consistency.

At present, one of the greatest problems for consumers when seeking out a genuine financial planning service is that while they can discover the professional designation of the individual advisers with whom they consult, they are not able to easily find a firm where the stated ethos is one of professional financial planning for clients.

It is important that there is a broad definition by which these financial planning firms can be judged and monitored.

The fundamentals would be:

  • A minimum of 25 per cent of the board or partners would be qualified to QCA level 6 or above.

  • More than half of the advisers would be qualified at the level of certified financial planner or chartered financial planner.

  • All advisers will have been tested on their financial planning skills.

  • All advisers will be members of an appropriate professional body.

  • The firm will have a stated ethos of financial planning to which all principals have committed.

    The client service offered will reinforce this, for instance. by the use of cashflow modelling as part of the client solution.

  • Firms will use descriptors relevant to their business.

  • Clients will be able to receive standalone financial advice.

  • The service will be fee-based.

    This helps define and monitor a particular segment. A register would then provide a check for the consumer to validate the marketing approach.

    It is unlikely that legislation will prevent people using the title financial planner but a register will allow the good firms to differentiate themselves. This will also provide a platform from which to consider a consumer marketing campaign in order to help people get the service they really want from those in our profession.

    Nick Cann is chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planning

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