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The long good buy

“You are Ron Sandler, private eye?” asked the man with the accent from Scotland, which they tell me is near England.

As it said that in nine-inch gold lettering on the office door, I didn&#39t deny it.

“The man who cleaned up Lloyd&#39s of London?”

I guess he got that out of Who&#39s Who.

“I&#39ve a job for you – fifty a day plus expenses. Lift the lid on the retail financial services sector. Find the dirt and dish it.”

It sounded like the job I&#39d dreamed of – enough cash to pay for that little place on the beach. With a bit over for the bourbon (and other chocolate biscuits).

The evidence was all there sitting in rows waiting to be gathered. They all had previous, even if some didn&#39t have convictions.

The DA was from out on the east side, from the sort of office which has art works in reception. He was called Davies – a Manchester City kinda guy. I gave him the lowdown. “We need a bust. Round up the usual suspects. Kick ass. Give them something to remember us by.”

He replied: “Not without the chance to make representations over a three-month consultation period, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Financial Services and Markets Act. There is, of course, a statutory appeals procedure in particular cases.”

I saw this was not going to be my usual assignment. I could see fifties a day stretching to the crack of doom – or next summer, whichever came first.

I had been told to look at the IFAs. They were small, they were fragmented, they were isolated, they were put-upon. Trouble was, no one had told their clients. So their business just kept growing and complaints about them just kept falling.

I met one, I met another and another. They were all different. But they all liked talking. I should have held out for a hundred a day.

I asked questions, the kind of questions a man like me has to ask about remuneration and experience. I got answers – hundreds of them – the good, the bad and the incoherent. But they all were different.

If there was an answer, they were keeping it to themselves. Maybe there wasn&#39t an answer. Maybe there were too many answers.

So I asked an actuary to tell me about with-profits. It seemed like days passed. In fact, days did pass and I was still only on fifty a day. It was all about smoothing but I still never got to find out what smoothing was.

He gave me a book to read – the proceedings of the Institute of Actuaries and a consumer guide from the ABI. I used them to prop open the sash window after the cord broke when a client from 42nd tried to strangle me.

I went down to the little bar on Main and talked to a blonde drinking whisky sour. She was what they call a consumer. She and her IFA were close – real close.

“He does all the boring bits so I can get on with the interesting bits of my life,” she told me. I could imagine them. I could dream of them. But I couldn&#39t dream of fact-finds.

If the blonde was a victim, then she didn&#39t know and she didn&#39t care.

I called the provider helpline. I listened to Vivaldi, then I listened to more Vivaldi. This was going to be one tough assignment.

I would never see any of them again – except the FSA. No way has been invented to say goodbye to them.

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