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The fight for independence

I have always appreciated the unusual or the quirky. The venue for the IFP conference for the last two years has certainly been both. As you enter, you are greeted by a statue of Atlas (I presume) holding up not the world but the circular ceiling in reception.

Much of the content at this conference shows that polarisation and depolarisation has clearly passed most clients by. We may live the changes but they have little interest and see the market as full of people who only want to push products.

Aifa’s recent vote was to be expected but nonetheless it drew criticism from the usual suspects. What these critics seek to conceal is that multi-ties are simply conduits for the providers and any semblance of independence is purely illusory. For a representative body to succeed, it needs to have independence of mind and purpose This means that a multi-distribution body would be as effective as a chocolate fireguard.

We need a trade body that is prepared to support a sector that has the client’s interest at its core. The chall-enge of treating customers fairly could be a test too far for many multities. If you inspect the recent paper on TCF, the section on remuner-ation creates a real challenge, especially to the multi-tied product floggers. But for the truly independent firm, there is little to worry about. If anything, the ability to differ-entiate is made much easier.

Keeping the client at the centre of everything is the key to success. Using client surveys is also to be recommended as they provides valuable marketing information. But the truly effective firm not only needs to attract clients but must ensure that the level of service is appropriate.

This deals with the micro side of things but still leaves us with the macro issues and that is where Aifa comes in. I am yet to join Aifa despite the valiant efforts of Paul Smee, who could not convince me of the merits and advantages of the providers as sponsors.

I believe that now the Aifa members have decided to remain whole market, they need to be in total control and not be beholden to anyone. Without indepen-dence, we lack impact.

Just as the adviser needs to show that he is client-centric, the organisations to which he belongs must do the same thing if we are to be recog-nised as part of the profess-ional element of the sector.

Having spoken to many of the delegates at the IFP Conference, it is clear to me that the majority want to cut the umbilical tie with the providers and replace it with a commercial agreement.

If we are to prosper and cultivate the gap in the market for the professional financial firm, we need to keep our standards ahead of those of the regulator and be represented by a body untainted by the support of firms for whom the client is all too often an afterthought.

As the building work is ongoing in this hotel, navigation back to bed is no mean feat and so, with the attendees dismissing the potential reintroduction of the temperance discount by Scottish Provident, I head up the wooden hill to bed.

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