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The magic numbers

Derren Brown’s recent dalliance with the lottery reminded me how numbers can confuse and mystify even the sharpest individual.

I think number blindness has affected many in the area of the group personal pension plan. There seems to be near hysteria that the FSA will extend adviser-charging to GPPs.

I have read with some interest the commentary with regard to providers and IFAs – those supporting adviser-charging GPPs and those firmly against the suggestion.

People are often looking down the wrong end of the telescope. For far too long, the provision of advice and admin for employee benefits have been inappropriately provided through commission. In many cases, the commission is no longer substantial enough to cover the cost of running the scheme. I strongly suspect if IFAs were to time-cost on GPPs they might quickly find they were not as profitable as first thought and, in fact, losing them money at an alarming rate.

What we need for adviser-charging on GPPs and other group schemes is a proposal which not only engages the regulators but also engages the employer population.

It is clear that employers value quality advice. They use it for Investors In People, for obtaining an ISO mark and indeed for taking their own business forward and developing brand campaigns, advertising, PR, etc.

What we need to do is imagine ourselves in the mindset of the average employer with a service that is worth paying for and a service that adds value. To do this, we need to be clear about what we are providing and I have always held the opinion that the best way to do this is to sit down and write down everything you do when you are looking after client in a particular area. Failing to do this is planning to fail and, without that process map, you are not generally in a position to comment on a significant or a serious way on what is going on.

Process is at the heart of quality service and a failure to recognise that or a willingness to try and hang on to an outdated way of being paid is only delaying the inevitable and it may well delay the inevitable to the point where the employer goes elsewhere in exasperation.

The recent suggestion by Brendan Barber of the TUC that higher tax relief should be removed on pensions simply proved that the trade unions in the country are as out of touch as those who are struggling to bring us personal accounts, sorry, now referred to under the attractive sobriquet auto-enrolment. For many of the target group, this does not conjure up the thought of savings but some sort of mechanised roll-filling gadget. We need to ensure employers and employees can see the value in savings. This will only happen if we recognise that people do not want excessive information they want solutions or, better still, peace of mind.

But back to the magic, people will often proffer the most plausible answer instead of the true answer – hence why Mrs Merton once prevented Debbie Magee using this option when she asked, what first attracted you to the multi-millionaire Paul Daniels?

We need to ask what we really want to know if we are to deliver the service our clients really want, never mind need.

Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners

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