The RDR has had a significant impact on the number of financial advisers in the UK, with bank advisers being particuarly badly affected.
In March, the FSA revealed there had been a 20 per cent drop in adviser numbers since December 2011 and the number of bank and building society advisers had dropped even further at 44 per cent. So far, closures and restructuring of advice services within banks is estimated to have resulted in around 7,200 job losses and this has raised real concerns about how many people will access financial advice.
Since Barclays took the decision to close its advice arm in 2011, many others have followed suit. Lloyds closed its mass market advice service in November last year, while Santander has stopped offering advice to new customers early in 2013. HSBC has also taken the decision to stop offering advice to customers that fall below a certain net worth – in its case £50,000.
Most recently, Axa closed its UK bancassurance arm, causing its two UK banking partners, The Co-operative Banking Group and Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks, to pull out of offering advice.
Many advisers believe this is the beginning of the end for face-to-face bank advice and that the RDR is to blame.
Plan Money director Peter Chadborn says: ”It is absolutely down to the RDR but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It has opened consumer’s eyes to the cost of getting advice from a bank. Banks realise they can’t operate a viable model due to the constraints of the RDR.”
However, the FCA has stated that the introduction of the RDR shouldn’t be solely blamed for bank advice closures.
An FCA spokeswoman says: “Any institution that stops providing a particular service is not necessarily down to changes that we have made. The [state of the] economy has resulted in a huge fall of people who are taking advice, from 25 per cent of people that we spoke to in 2008 to only 12 per cent last year. It is not simple to say that this can be attributed to any one factor.”
But Jacksons Wealth Management director Pete Matthew says that the blame should not fall completely on the RDR. He says: “All the RDR has done is shine a very bright light on practices which have been going on for years. People are becoming increasingly aware of the cost of advice and demanding value in return for that price. That is what they never got with the banks. They have always been sold to, not advised.”
Axa recently revealed that in order to ensure the bancassurance arm was profitable, it would have had to charge an adviser fee of 6 per cent.
Ernst & Young financial services executive director Malcolm Kerr says it has long been apparent that bank-based advice would not be financially viable under the RDR and cites work done by the firm back in 2009 that illustrated how much firms would have to charge their customers for advice under the RDR.
He says: “At that time we calculated that the cost of advice worked out at around £220 an hour. Having calculated that, calculating that an advice process could take up to five hours and the fact they had a lower-end client base, it became clear to us that they couldn’t run an advice business profitably. We didn’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be the case for all banks.”
Another reasons that banks have been put under pressure is regulatory scrutiny. In February, the FSA carried out a mystery shopping exercise into the quality of investment advice of six major banks and building societies. Of the 231 mystery shops carried out, it was revealed that in 11 per cent of cases, the adviser gave unsuitable advice to the client.
The FSA also vowed to crack down on vertically integrated firms last year as a part of the RDR, stating that firms who provided advice and recommended their own products, such as banks and building societies, should clearly disclose to the client that adviser charges would be payable as well as product charges.
However, some businesses believe consumer demand for face-to-face advice has reduced and this could be a contributing factor to the loss of bank advisers. Aviva, which has decided to pull out of offering face-to-face investment advice from 31 May, said the reasoning behind this is because consumer demand is for internet and telephone based services rather than a full face-to-face advice service.
In January, Hargreaves Lansdown carried out a DIY Investor Survey revealing that 84.7 per cent of investors now make all or the majority of their financial decisions without taking advice.
Kerr believes the future of retail investment advice will be using based in technology.
He says: “What is going to happen in the near future is that you will only be able to get advice online, with perhaps the opportunity to speak to someone on the telephone if you need to. There are quite a lot of organisations developing very complex technology solutions that will give people regulated advice and the issue at the moment is trying to make sure that those things would stand any kind of scrutiny.”
Lansons director of regulatory consulting Richard Hobbs says he is also expecting banks to re-enter the advice sector in the future.
He says: “Retail customers and their needs formed a very big proportion of UK retail operations. Simply running a bank won’t make you much money. So it would be entirely expected that banks would get their thinking caps on and try and work out ways of re-entering the market, but with a different proposition.”
Although many banks and building societies have axed their advice arms, some are determined to continue within the market.
West Bromwich Building Society has revealed it will continue to offer investment advice despite the withdrawal of its bancassurance partner Axa, and Skipton Building Society will continue to offer advice for clients with more than £10,000 to invest. Legal & General have also said they are committed to their bancassurance model going forward, which covers 87 per cent of the building society advice market including Nationwide.
HSBC and RBS will continue to offer advice but only to high-net-worth clients.
The FCA is to carry out an RDR post-implementation review next year in order to assess what impact the RDR has had on the market and whether any changes are necessary.
An FCA spokeswoman says: “We are confident that the changes we made as a part of the RDR have increased qualifications and professionalism in the industry and that customers now understand that advice was never free.
“We knew that there would be some adjustment in the market and we are keeping a close eye on how the market evolves.”
Hobbs believes the impact that the RDR has had on the advice market so far may prompt the FCA to make some changes.
“The implications of behavioural economics, and I expect the post-implementation of the RDR to be formed by further thinking about behavioural economics, could lead to some modification of the rules aimed at better engagement between the industry and its customers. I think that we haven’t seen the last word on the RDR.”