So, this is the last column I shall be posting as managing director of Sofa. At the end of February, I become business development director of the Jelf Group.
Since I started with Sofa, it has been quite a ride. Among other things, we have cracked the 10,000member mark. We are now progressing towards a final application to the Privy Council regarding chartered status for suitably qualified and experienced advisers and we have introduced some important new member benefits in the areas of technical and compliance queries.
In the 21 months I have been at Sofa, we have seen much consultation from the FSA and the Treasury. We have had Sandler and also the amazing pension simplification proposals from the Inland Revenue. On a more personal note, in an area that is of particular interest to me, we have also had the recent proposals from the Revenue on the modernisation of the tax system as it relates to personal trusts, employee benefit trusts and estates in administration.
I should emphasise that what follows in this article should only be taken as personal views and not specifically as the view of Sofa and its members.
Having come from a commercial background – a long career with the good old Sun Life – I have to say that I have been amazed and also appalled by the incredibly slow way that things move once the authorities become involved. Here is just one example – CP121, a consultative document on reforming polarisation was issued in January 2002 – over two years ago. The financial services profession deserves better than this.
What about exams? Two major areas concern me. First, pensions. People who would have been qualified in pensions as far as AFPC is concerned have held back from taking the exam because we have been expecting the whole subject to be simplified with, supposedly, a simpler exam resulting. How long have we been expecting simplification to take place? The Government first launched its review by the Revenue into this subject in January 2001 – yes, three years ago.
The second concern in this area is the exam review. CP157 (remember that) was issued in November 2002, with responses requested by March 31, 2003. After that, the whole thing was shipped across to the Financial Services Skills Council. Here we are in January 2004 and all we have is a piece of card with some pink and green blobs on it, a few sketchy details and a “roadmap” timetable which already looks woefully behind schedule.
The fact that there is a review is not a problem – we can live with that and things do need looking at in the light of changing circumstances from time to time. It is the inordinate length of time it is taking to get things moving that is the problem. People are discouraged from progressing their qualifications purely because of uncertainty and the slowness of the authorities – how can this be encouraging professionalism and higher standards?
Brian Lawless is managing director of Sofa