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The whole truth

I know there were some raised eyebrows when Skipton Financial Services chose whole of market status after depolarisation.

Clearly, many product providers would dearly have liked us to tie or multi-tie but after sitting through hours of presentations and detailed discussions, there was little to compel us in that direction. These conversations were typically disappointing in that the incentive of higher commission rates was usually the major offering. We viewed this as short-sighted as it failed to address the major issue for many distributors, which centres on efficiencies of the business model from customer acquisition to ongoing service.

So the real choice for us was whether to remain independent and who better to turn to than our customers for their view? Before depolari- sation, we carried out research with clients, advisers and affinity partners to find out what was important. We quickly learned that it was trust in the Skipton brand and our building society heritage. In line with the FSA’s research prior to depolarisation, our research indicated that independence was not necessarily the be all and end all for our clients. We see businesses clinging to the independent badge as if it represents some sort of quality mark. In reality, the advice we all provide, whether independent or whole of market, will be the same and that is clearly the belief of our affinity partners when they audit the advice we provide to their customers.

Next, we considered the implications of fees on commission cross-subsidisation. Some may argue that removing cross-subsidy is a good thing but it is this which enables us to provide quality advice to all customers as well as to those wealthy enough to pay fees. Being part of a mutual, the continuing success of our affinity partnerships requires us to be able to service a wide spectrum of clients. Although, unlike other distributors, this prevents us from deselecting lower-value customers, this has also worked to our advantage. Consequently, we are forming several new partnerships with other building societies, the first of which we have just announced with Market Harborough, to provide its customers with financial advice.

We were delighted that Market Harborough chose us as its partner when it had the option to move its financial services relationship to any other distributor firm, including one which offers fees. It is an endorsement of our offering when a building society is willing to hand over responsibility for advice to its customers to one of its so-called competitors.

Since being rebadged as whole of market advisers, we have monitored the impact of this change closely. To date, we have not seen any demonstrable detrimental effect on our client or affinity partner relationships. In a recent trial, only 10 per cent of our clients said they would prefer to move to a fee-based system in future.

Furthermore, since we have been whole of market, we have secured additional affinity partnerships and, as part of the associated tender processes, the quality of our advice continues to stand up to the rigour of third-party audit, without the need for an independent badge.

Does this mean that Skipton Financial Services is turning its back on the independent badge for ever? Well, the answer to that is no and we never have done. While we became whole of market after depolarisation, our Skipton Group sister company Pearson Jones continues as an IFA. Should a client want independent or fee-based advice, the option has always remained available within the group and we already refer on customers who request a fee-based offering.

While we believe that there is currently a low propensity for wealthy clients to demand fee-based advice, we do expect this demand to increase in the coming years. Therefore, to make sure we can always service our clients’ needs, we will launch a Skipton-branded, fee-based, independent offering and we are expecting another IFA acquisition to come on board soon.

This is part of our plan to grow the Skipton Group’s financial services operations well beyond their current substantial scale.

Our growing number of customers and affinity partners already clearly see huge value in our brand and business standards but we also recognise that the ability to grow the group’s fee-based offering nationwide will complete the final piece of the jigsaw.

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