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The art of consistency

Julie Hepworth, Group regulatory manager, Perspective Financial Group
Julie Hepworth, Group regulatory manager, Perspective Financial Group

It always amused me in the last series of The Apprentice where, each week, Lord Sugar bemoaned the contestants and suggested to them that he was not in the market for “Steady Eddies’ or “Cautious Carols”.

The fact of the matter is that most teams/businesses/sectors are crying out for employees or members who are models of consistency. We all need unique individuals in an operation but most success is built on the endeavours of those who can be relied on to deliver quality time after time. Certainly, in financial services, the majority of clients are not looking for advisers who take undue risks with their investments and adopt an advice process which can’t be relied on from one moment to the next.

As we move towards the RDR, it is increasingly vital that firms ensure they have an established and consistent advice process – clients will expect it as they will then be reassured that the service they get will be consistent regardless of the member of staff they happen to deal with. Plus, it will also result in internal efficiencies and increased professionalism.

So, what type of review can firms undertake to ensure they have such a consistent advice process at all levels? Well, the starting point is for them to appraise the current advice processes to establish if there are inconsistencies between their advisers at any stage/ component part of the process.

Firms should be asking questions such as whether their advisers meet the FSA’s disclosure requirements by using the same documents. Do they use the same factfind? Do they use the same method to establish a client’s attitude to risk? Do they use the same risk profile definitions?

Do they all use a consistent investment process whereby each risk profile directly aligns to a consistent asset allocation and fund selection/model portfolio? Do they all work to the same standards/ format when producing suitability reports? If the firm is answering no to any of the above questions, there are clearly inconsistencies in the process and clients will be getting a different experience dep-ending on which adviser they see.

There are other considerations for a business seeking consistency. For example, does the firm use the right platform? Or for those that have yet to make that choice, how do they choose? In deciding this, there are numerous considerations such as, which is the best fit for the business that will support its service offering post-2012? How will it fit the existing back-office system? What are the costs, independence, longevity and financial strength of the platform? Establishing the answers to these questions will form part of a firm’s due diligence process when considering their platform needs.

To deliver a consistent approach throughout the firm is not rocket science; however it may also require a consideration of what the firm can deliver itself and what may be better outsourced.

Once the firm has decided what the consistent advice process is going to be, the next step is to document it and invest time to ensure all staff fully understand it and the benefits; they also need to commit to ensuring its success. This is truly a case of ’one in, all in’ because without wholesale acceptance and dedication to the process, firms will never be sure of their consistency level.

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