Former Britannic Retirement Solutions corporate development director Bob Bullivant is the new managing director of Sofa, replacing Brian Lawless who is moving at the end of this month to IFA The Jelf Group.
Bullivant says he sees Sofa as the gold standard organisation for the professional adviser. He considers Sofa is one of the key players that will shape the industry over the next few years and is ready for the challenge of “taking financial advice to the next level”.
At the centre of his plan is the lure of chartered status, which Bullivant feels will help with many of the industry's main problems.
Bullivant says one of the greatest issues for the industry is addressing the problem of perception by consumers. He believes a large part of this battle can be won by raising professionalism in financial services through initiatives such as obtaining chartered status.
He believes that chartered status would make it possible to build a model of advice where the public is immediately able to identify the skills that an adviser has by his or her credentials in a similar fashion to the legal and accounting professions.
He says: “Consumers need to know the framework in the same way that they understand lawyers need to belong to the Law Society. Chartered status would boost consumer confidence in advisers and help them to understand that their financial adviser has the correct skills.”
He says that, to the consumer, “a financial adviser is a financial adviser, whether he is doing a simple Isa sale or complex estate transactions” but the industry needs to get the consumer to understand the different levels of expertise within the industry.
Bullivant says: “Sofa has led the industry in terms of standards and will continue to do so. There is no need to change that but we do need to get recognition as a professional body by consumers, Government and the media.”
He says he wants Sofa to be in a position where the public recognise it as an organisation in the same realms as the Law Society.
“A consumer will feel so much more confident in an adviser's service if they understand that as a member of Sofa the adviser must maintain certain standards and obtain certain qualifications. If they do not, their membership of Sofa will be withdrawn,” he says.
Bullivant says it is too early to comment on how a new structure of membership based on chartered status would look but he points to the accounting profession as an example of how the structure could work, with membership ranging from chartered accountant to certified accountant to costed work. He says it is important the organisation has a structure that is clearly recognised not just by the industry but also by the public.
He says: “This is a complex argument that I have not completely come to grips with but it will quite rapidly appear on the radar. It is something that I think the Sofa membership is serious about.”
Bullivant believes that chartered status is also important for attracting good young entrants to the industry.
“Sofa has a real role in keeping the industry populated with fresh, intelligent people. When graduates look to the industry for possible employment, we are competing with the likes of law, accounting and engineering. The challenge is to present new recruits with the right proposition and professionalism and a clear career path is of utmost importance in this,” he says.
Bullivant feels he has the right credentials to take over where Brian Lawless has left off. He has worked at board level in life offices and has also been an IFA. He believes he has an empathy with advisers and an understanding of the challenges faced by life offices.
The CII has also chosen to give the Sofa managing director a seat on the board of the Chartered Insurance Institute board and Bullivant believes this is crucial for the trade body's development.
He says: “If we are to move ahead in making financial advising a profession, it is very important Sofa and the CII act together. As a director of the CII, Sofa will have a voice at board level and input into CII strategy.”