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Scott Gallacher: Dishonesty on qualifications sets us back as professionals

gallacherThe world has become a less deferential place over the decades but the concept of “the professions” still lingers, conjuring up images of expertise, probity and sober good judgement.

Many individual advisers and planners can rightfully claim a place in that group but recognition for advice more generally is proving a bit of a slog. We are still a relatively young profession and, let’s face it, still have some historic baggage to shake off.

All the more important, then, that the face we present to the world should be truly professional in every way. That is why I was dismayed to read about Which?’s recent report, which found advisers claiming incorrect qualifications on various “find an adviser” sites.

I am afraid I am not surprised. Nearly a year ago, I checked a well-known site and, having worked hard to obtain chartered status for myself and my firm, was disappointed to see a local firm wrongly listed as such.

I then checked some more and found that incorrect chartered listings were pretty common right across the country. And no, I am afraid we cannot just blame the website filters, since clicking through to the summary of firms’ details I found the same false claims there as well.

Perhaps we could give some firms the benefit of doubt. Maybe the person arranging their listing misunderstood the difference between an individual chartered financial planner and the corporate designation of chartered financial planners.

But where the firm had no chartered advisers at all, it is hard to explain it away as human error. In fact, it begins to look like a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Of course, I raised it with the website (with little response) and my concerns were covered in the press at the time. That makes it all the more dismaying that little appears to have changed.

What I want to suggest is that this is not just a case of a couple of bad apples but a failure by all concerned.

Shoddy practice by too many advisers misrepresenting themselves, a serious lack of due diligence from the “find an adviser” sites and the professional bodies’ and FCA’s failure to take these matters seriously.

To some, misrepresenting a logo on a website or a few letters after a person’s name might seem like a minor matter. But I think the opposite. It is indicative of the problem that lies at the heart of advisers as professionals: the question of honesty and trust. Heaven knows if a lawyer or (God forbid) a doctor misrepresented themselves we would be rightly outraged – and we would expect their regulators to come down like a tonne of bricks.

Likewise, we should be outraged and our professional bodies and the FCA should sit up and take notice.

Of course, there are other ways to check an adviser’s bona-fides and a wise consumer might do so (although, in passing, there is still no register for independence/restricted status). But a consumer should not have to do that. They should be able to have the confidence that, among the ranks of advisers, misinformation and misrepresentation are just not tolerated.

Until a client can have that confidence, our goal of being regarded as true professionals is stalled.

Scott Gallacher is director of Rowley Turton


Lessons to be learnt

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There are 11 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. That’s the half of it. It is also a kick in the teeth for those who have made the effort and passed the exams to gain these qualifications.

    Castration is too good for the cheats.

  2. I don’t understand how this remains a problem. If an advisory firm lies about their status – they are either incompetent, or dishonest. If they are dishonest that is surely failing the ‘fit and proper’ test.

    We as an industry spent so much time arguing about whether level 4 was necessary for the mass market, or whether commissions were the bain of a fair market or necessary to allow mass advice, or whether polarisation helped or hindered the consumer.

    But I don’t ever remember any argument about whether being a liar was OK or not. If you lie, you are not fit.

  3. You can obtain all the qualifications in the world, it dose not make your advice any better, it just means you can read a book and answer questions, why would anyone want to lie about their exam history, I took my 25m swimming badge in 1962, I simply can not remember ever been asked to take it again, I can though still swim like a fish, alright, for those who know me, alright, I hear you, a whale.

  4. This is just another example of salespeople masquerading as professional advisers within our industry, RDR did little to stop some of these activities, and as we can see they have used the improvement in overall standards of qualification to gain dishonest advantage.

    We still have a long way to go to be taken seriously as a profession, the DB feeding frenzy is another example of the sell at all costs culture that still remains today, and is more widespread than you would think.

    Giving quality advice is not easy for those who take the time and effort to provide it, and those who pretend to offer the same level of professionalism are insulting us all.

  5. It does seem to make a mockery of taking QCF level 6 exams to gain chartered status when others are claiming they hold the qualification without exam passes to back it up.Scott Gallacher’s comparison with a doctor doing the same thing brings the point home.

  6. Anyone tackling Unbiased etc to get house in order? Otherwise this will continue as long as nothing changes.

  7. I think that as professionals, we should not get drawn into the murk that scammers and cheats(because that’s what they are)operate.

    I think this shows flaws in Unbiased etc’s own processes rather than a failing in that of true professionals who have done the hard work.

    There used to be a specific offence of ‘gaining a pecuniary advantage through deception’ which applied to those who lied on CVs, insurance proposals etc and in my opinion such actions fall into this category.

    The offenders should be named and shamed, and we should stop pussyfooting around the PC issues. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear!

  8. Financial advice is not a profession, and financial advisers not professionals. This is why the activities mentioned happen.

    If financial advisers want to stamp this out and move up a rung in terms of trust etc, then they need to take a leaf out of the professionals’ book: create a self regulating body with its own code of conduct, and police it relentlessly. You decide the rules, and if a member firm or individual transgresses those rules, throw them out of the body.

    Get it right, and eventually the authorities will take notice and reserve certain functions to members of that body. And you will have created another Profession.

  9. Siz – good idea in principle however legally the professional bodies can’t self regulate. Solicitors have found this to be the case as well.

    Unsure however about your first comment as ultimately someone masquerading as any form of professional is acting outside of the laws/rules.

  10. Interestingly in the NEwspaper ( The Times ) today an article the FCA was fully aware of RBS – including a report – yet failed to take action because apparently the Government regulator could be sued by the Government/State owned Robbing Bank of Scotland RBS ? Now that is not even soft touch “regulation”, merely “soft” in my humble opinion.

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