I have never been one to focus on the number of shopping days to Christmas but I recognise its proximity when it is time for the Money Marketing boat party, the Sofa conference and last but not least the Round Table Christmas collections.
This year, a troublesome acquisition led to me missing the boat, and no I do not mean that metaphorically. The Sofa conference saw us welcome John Tiner in person and Callum McCarthy courtesy of a satellite link to the Aifa dinner. Both speeches recognised the massive job that the FSA has in making regulation work for consumers and those who are regulated. Neither speech broke new ground and Callum McCarthy's was so hard to interpret that the loss of the satellite link came as a blessing.
The festive season is the ideal time for reflection and attending the Sofa conference certainly provides the intellectual fuel for that process. At a Sofa conference, the opportunity for networking cannot be understated and, for many, the importance of this sits equal with the educational content of the event.
Last week saw the launch of the international standard (Iso) for financial planning creating one of the building blocks that we need as we build a profession. Recognising the role for a standardised process in defining quality advice is essential if we are to capture the confidence of the consumer -we may not be able to build a brand but we can certainly build a reputation.
The most encouraging part of the Sofa conference was the quality of the delegates and that impression was shared by the delegates, sponsors and organisers. Advisers are recognising that while we wait for the final position regarding depolarisation this is the ideal time to consider which business model will best serve us going forward.
One of the speakers at this year's conference was a business consultant from the US. She spoke about one advisory form in the US where no paper records were kept as the practice earned no fees or commission on the sale of mutual funds or other products. The clients value this service and the network of advisers continues to grow, the great pity is that this approach cannot operate in the UK where the product-led regulation fails to define mis-selling and is similarly unlikely to be able to ring fence generic advice.
We cannot provide the level of advice that the public requires if the burden of regulation is not lightened for those advisers who are educated to and operate to a higher than minimum standard.
As the FSA has recently indicated, it too feels the margin in stakeholder products is too lean to allow for the cost of advice. If we can take the Iso process and use this standard as a means to reduce risk, then this needs to be recognised by the regulators. On its own, it may be argued that the Iso is not enough but, combined with a chartered title, this may just be the combination which allows for a lighter regulatory touch. This could be the opportunity we have needed to define the complete professional adviser.
Let us make a resolution that 2004 will be the year of feedback to the regulator – if it is not good at making its point to us we need to be effective at making the point to it.
Robert Reid is a director of IFA Syndaxi