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Saddled with cowboys

As most children of my era would admit, cowboys and indians was a common pastime and the landscape of Glasgow had to be mentally edited so that the sight of giant cactuses was in mind when not necessarily in the line of sight.

I was reminded of this, having just returned from a financial planning conference in the heart of cowboy country, namely Arizona.

The financial planners in the US continue to refine their offerings with life planning and its many variants taking centre stage. This, along with investment talks of a high standard, makes the trek from the UK highly worthwhile.

In this country, we continue to find events where the content is at too low a level or the assumed competence of the practitioner is far from advanced.

Recognising the strata in our growing profession is essential if we are to deliver a service fit for purpose. The idea that FPC or its latest equivalent is sufficient to justify a premium level of charge for advice is frankly laughable.

Before the entire professional letter writers collective take me to task, I do not see the exam options as anything other as the least bad option.

Ideally, training and testing would be personally customised but the costs of this ideal is well in excess of what even the best funded firm would find acceptable.

The current debate in the US surrounds the issue of whether an adviser takes the role of fiduciary or not. To us, this is not an option but amazingly in the US, you can put forward asset allocation or even single stock selection, then remind the clients that you are not acting as a fiduciary. So, advice and no responsibility – there is a thought. The fact that they do not have a single regulator does add to this situation and many in regulation in the US envy the single regulator as we have in the UK.

The US market remains very bullish, with equity levels at 75-80 per cent for many balanced investors, but then we are talking about a far bigger local stock-market and people who understand the need to save.

Perhaps that is the major difference between the UK and the US. They have no illusion of an ever present safety net provided by their Government. Welfare exists but not at a level that is acceptable to any level of American society.

As Tony and Gordon agree, provided that we can afford it. Hang on, that is not agreement, that is a conditional agreement. Yes, we have no real progress and as the equity market rescues the final-salary schemes, pensions could just fall off the radar. The reality is that the Government and the Chancellor in particular have no intention of promoting saving as this economy, in common with the US, relies too heavily on consumer spending to keep going at its present level.

The Tories have just announced that cross-party support on pensions relies on the re-opening of the deal for civil servants and if there was real new thinking from Cameron and his team, this would include amendments to the MP’s own scheme, starting with banning any transfers in, where using the transfer club former local authority/civil servants can transfer in all service and get an undeserved increase in the level of their benefits.

Will we ever resolve savings and pensions? Not under this Government, I fear.

Until we accelerate the tested competence level to a point that reflects current client expectation, the cowboys in our sector will remain far to firm in the saddle.

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