You meet so many people in your life, especially when you hold a post in a professional body. It is so hard to remember them all but some do make an impression.
John Ellis, who was head of public affairs at the LIA, was one such individual, a man with integrity and a man of his word. It was great to work alongside someone who also had an independent mind and did not just go with the flow. I know I sometimes shocked him with my direct approach but then, as he once told me, that is why he trusted me as I did exactly what I said I would.
Last week, I attended a debate on client ownership and it became clear that a dictionary was needed by some. We heard from Andrew Fisher of Towry that it offered a “holistic” service.
Well, when I was writing copy for my own website, I avoided that very term due to the breadth of its definition. I decided that holistic advice was like comprehensive insurance-generic terms for decidedly non-generic offerings.
As all brandings become promotions by default, the regulator is going to have its work cut out in ensuring that labels are clear to the consumer as the RDR takes effect.
This takes me to the independent/ restricted debate; where the labels are the real issue as they tie the definition to products and not the overall service of which products are but a part.
I have never felt that the regulators got the whole idea of advice and what it provided. Thankfully, we do not have the ridiculous position of specialists being denied the independent banner. However, the position for discretionary managers is less clear and we find ourselves contemplating artificial and convoluted processes to maintain independent status. This cannot be the aim of these labels.
I have recently seen evidence of some providers managing to avoid adviser-charging issues that remain for IFAs. This is a topic for a future column but worth a mention as we consider the overly product-orientated regulation as a major factor in the changes proposed and the contradictions they have delivered.
I do not restrict my comments to the current batch of regulators. I go back as far as Fimbra and where the problem really took hold at the PIA – an organisation which seemed to contain no lateral thinkers. We then moved on to the FSA under Howard Davies and we seemed to turn a corner but soon we were back to products again. Indeed, I recall that some in the FSA tried to block me in the pro bono initiative and of all people Patricia Hewitt, the then Treasury economic secretary, came to the rescue and we proceeded. Sometimes, help comes from the most unexpected place.
We live in a country where savings are for rich people instead of being part of our culture and we need to emphasise advice before product to all. The debacle that is the Money Advice Service seems to have focused more on its own packages than on the job in hand.
Despite its title, it focuses too much on product and seems to struggle to reach its target market. All too often, these organisations focus on the messages they recognise and therefore end up talking to themselves, hardly the outcome we need at this time.
We don’t need evolution, we need revolution if we are to change the direction and mindset of people to make them realise that retirement can, and in many cases will, last a very long time, in some cases, even longer than the period they were at work.
We can help with this by ensuring that we promote the value of advice at every turn. The trade bodies, especially the Association of British Insurers, need to join in. I accept it represents the product manufacturers, but with detailed advice comes greater product sales and those products will tend to last longer too.
It is regrettable that there is no effective lobbying body for advice as Aifa remains ineffective for yet another year as the major firms try to reduce their subscription at time when they should really increase.
In closing, I should point out that although John Ellis passed away over a year ago, the PFS were only recently made aware of this. Nonetheless, I could not let the fact he had passed be overlooked by the masses, he changed me and he helped change an industry to an emerging profession, we all owe him a debt.
Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners