When my late parents retired, one of their favourite TV shows was Countdown. I was reminded of it following the report from the Financial Advice Market Review’s working group, released earlier this month.
The conundrum as to the best way to ensure people recognise regulated advice may as well have been determined using a special edition of the programme.
Any lateral thinking was clearly put to one side. That is one of the worst characteristics of our sector; the objective is always frustrated by everyone protecting their own position. So we are now no further forward, which brings into question those involved, the discussions and whether they were up to the task.
I say this after reading that chair of the working group Nick Prettejohn is urging the FCA, the Money Advice Service and the Treasury to “carry forward the panel’s work for it to be a successful reality”. The statement avoids the fact his working party were stymied from the outset, partly by having a wish to preserve instead of evolve.
There are various instances in my career that I have seen personal agendas cause nothing but anguish and prevent progress where it is most needed.
One such example was when I helped set up the Citizens Advice Bureau project with the Society of Financial Advisers, which saw interference from various quarters who sought to derail it. Ironically, when it succeeded, they then tried to hijack it without even attempting to understand why it was such a success.
In December 2015, I attended a FAMR/Treasury discussion where most of those there took their own perspective and not that of the public. It was clear those involved were focused on what they thought advice and guidance was, not even trying to see it from a client’s position.
Most irritating was ex-chancellor George Osborne’s glib use of the term “advice” when launching the MAS. Now, I know fellow Money Marketing columnist Paul Lewis will say I am being precious but far from it.
I fully accept no one owns the term but if it is being used without context, then definition is as crucial as it is for the word guidance.
The public needs to know who they can pursue if the advice or guidance is not suitable. There is a potential they could find out too late to recover from its effects.
We also found out recently that the FCA has ruled out standardised factfinds, which demonstrates it has completely missed the point. If we can rely on non-subjective data collected from another firm, then we can reduce costs.
After all, as Defaqto insight consultant Gill Cardy points out, we do this for anti-money laundering, so why not core data? As usual, the regulator has misread the objective and another attempt to make advice more accessible is thwarted.
Given we are told the regulatory sandbox is where all the “groundbreaking” action will be, those playing may find their business models slipping through their fingers unless some new thinking starts to emerge.
Robert Reid is director at The Ideas Lab