As depolarisation approaches, the clarity of offerings will emerge from the mist. It is this mist which has had the effect of softening some hard decisions and making some firms think that the menu will have a minor effect, almost tinkering or, if you like, a touch of the Ranieri.
Recent articles on fee levels may have failed to emphasise the reason for the FSA's remarks but, nonetheless, this is one issue that we need to resolve ASAP.
In recent weeks, many more individuals have pushed their heads above the parapet to indicate reservations over the language used in the menu and the lack of reality some of its text and comparisons will promote. All this in an environment where the Sandler proposals are heading for the too-difficult pile.
The reason why low-cost advice is a pipedream owes itself to those in Government wanting it all. Low cost and high liability – the complexity comes not from the providers but from the Government itself.
If your objective is low-cost savings, could we not create a universal investment account, where the wrapper can be swapped at a later stage, with the appropriate boost or reclaim of tax relief? We also need to ensure that means-tested benefits are cast to one side for those over pension age or at least only tested for those paying higher-rate taxes.
For example, the client starts off by taking out a stakeholder pension, only to realise the better choice was an Isa. Simple. The tax relief is reclaimed less a fixed audit charge and the client is no worse off than if they had taken out an Isa from the start. There is no reason why the reverse could not be the case, with tax relief added less the fixed audit charge. None of this would involve the Government in any work as tax relief would be limited to basic rate as a quid pro quo for the removal of the spectre of means-testing or, if you are a devotee of things PC, affluence-testing.
Although some see depolarisation and Sandler, etc, as separate issues, I strongly believe they are only separate in the way that jigsaw pieces are. The big picture is how we deliver high-quality advice where it is needed.
The idea that the client is always correct removes any requirement for them to take responsibility for their choices or the depth of information provided. Clients need to take part but, to take part, they need basic skills and should be given a tax-free bonus when they attend a financial awareness course. It all very well teaching schoolchildren about money when they have little. By the time it is relevant, they will have forgotten all about it.
We need to get at those individuals who have just started work. For many of them, there is little need for detailed advice but a pointer here and there and some occasional generic advice would not go amiss.
With all this change, there is a real danger we forget the key objectives of encouraging the public to save through effective budgeting and a basic plan for life.
Robert Reid is a director of Syndaxi Financial Planning