When I worked full-time at Money Marketing many years ago, one of the most satisfying aspects of my job was to attend IFA conferences and seminars around the country. Armed with a brick-sized mobile telephone, I would spend several days on the road every month, talking to IFAs and reporting on their views.
My MM colleague Natalie Holt clearly feels the same – last week, she was out and about at the Tenet annual business conference in Ascot to hear some of the industry’s great and good discuss a range of topics of interest to members of the network.
Among the speakers was Stephen Gay, Aifa’s new director general, who gave the audience his take on what are likely to be the next steps on the RDR. Two things stand out for me from his reported speech. One was his cautious belief that the FSA might show some flexibility with regard to the level four qualifications it is demanding from IFAs if they have not been achieved before the regulator’s December 2012 deadline.
The other was his defence of Aifa’s approach to influencing the regulator and others whom the trade body is in discussion with from time to time. Natalie quotes Gay as saying: “A pressure group can be very fierce about shortterm objectives without needing to consider the longer-term consequences.
“Shouting about things can be great but it is easy to burn bridges.” He added that it is the less visible trade associations, rather than pressure groups, that are “invited to the table” to influence regulatory policy.
With regard to the first point, my own gut feeling is that it will not be a blanket concession. It would most likely take the form of requiring IFAs to show evidence that they are booked either into an examination in the months immediately after December 2012, or that they be allowed to re-sit exams they have failed.
Another less likely possibility is that of looking at the specific qualifications that advisers currently have to see how close they are to meeting the full level four requirements, with time extensions available to those who are only a spit away from meeting them.
What I find equally interesting is Gay’s second comment. Over the years, I have picked my way through scores, probably hundreds, of Aifa speeches and never before have I come across one in which its director general is forced to defend the way his trade body works. What that indicates to me is that, among senior echelons at Aifa’s head office, one or two people are beginning to twig to the signs of discontent among ordinary members at the trade body’s softly-softly approach.
The problem with such a comment is it suggests there are two conflicting ways of discussing issues with the regulator. What Aifa seems to be telling IFAs is – either we do it quietly and responsibly or through “fierce pressure groups” who don’t “consider the long consequences.”
Actually, it does not have to either/or at all. Many years ago, one of my best friends was a postal worker whose main job was as a workplace representative for what is now the Communication Workers Union.
My friend was based at a very large sorting office. Because of the peculiarities of the Royal Mail system, everyone, both management and union, knew that if my mate’s office stopped working, deliveries to millions of homes and business would be severely affected within days.
My friend knew that strikes were potentially damaging for his national union. If it were to sanction a strike without going through procedures, it could be fined millions of pounds.
So what happened instead was an elaborate charade, in which my friend and his local union officers might pop out for a lunchtime pint to a local pub, where they would bump – entirely by chance – into a national official who would update them on the progress of negotiations over certain issues.
Lo and behold, a few days later, an unofficial strike would erupt at my friend’s local workplace. Of course, no ballot had been held before the posties walked out but the national union would sternly inform its members that the dispute was not condoned or supported by it in any way. Therefore its funds were safe and management were left in do doubt about the anger of rank-and-file posties.
If you have stayed with me so far, you are probably wondering why I’m boring you with an ABC of the realities of industrial relations in British society. The reason is there are some people in Aifa who are in danger of forgetting this fact.
Successful negotiations never happen because a bunch of well-meaning men and women sit opposite each other and calmly discuss an issue. There is always an underlying appreciation of the other side’s strength or anger over an issue.
That is why the actions of Martin Bamford and the 500-plus IFAs who have backed his open letter about the Financial Services Compensation Scheme interim levy, not to mention Alan Lakey’s Adviser Alliance are so important. They demonstrate what all the polite talking in Canary Wharf never will – that IFAs are angry – and they want something done about it now.
Maybe Stephen Gay, Alan Lakey and Martin Bamford ought to go and have a quiet drink somewhere. They could do wonders for each other.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org