Let’s say you had a phone-based financial advice service that had been growing quietly for 15 years. Let’s say your business now had more than 100 advisers giving advice daily in one focused area of consumer need.
And let’s say you genuinely felt that what your business did for the 3,000 or so people a week who engaged with it was good for those people, resulting in you harbouring ambitions to diversify into other areas requiring the application of skill and experience in simplifying complex things for consumers.
I bet if that was you, you would have seen the last Budget as a huge opportunity to serve the burgeoning pre-retirement demographic in the same style you did elsewhere – especially if you had stayed out of the annuities market because, like PPI and endowments before it, you thought the product was wrong for far more people than it was right.
You would look at the new need for good advice the Chancellor promised to serve and see a chance to build your business.
But I can tell you with confidence that just about now, despite the relative ease with which you could take the opportunity, you would put that dream so far back in the cupboard it might as well be in Narnia.
Why do I know this, you ask. Because you would have been listening to all the pronouncements about the new opportunity from your regulator and you would compare their words with those of their predecessors when they too encouraged markets – on personal pensions, mortgages with endowments or even suggesting PPI should be compulsory.
You would note the current policymakers know little of those histories and deduce they probably would not learn from the grievous errors their equivalents made back then – the ones that brought an entire industry into disrepute.
You would spot that no one on the governing side of the industry ever took any responsibility – personal, corporate or collective – for that long-term, ongoing and hugely destructive failure; that, instead, they thought you and your kind might take this new opportunity as “a charter for either misselling or abdicating responsibility” and consumers were better off with the “impossible feats of forecasting and accuracy” computers are capable of.
You might then think to yourself, have these good people learned nothing?
Do they not know that in personal finance, what is right today is hardly ever right for very long and so all advice needs to be managed and adjusted over the years if it is to have any chance of remaining good?
You would wonder if you could trust such people, and then you would just sling the whole thing out and let them get on with their naive nonsense – without you.
Tom Baigrie is chief executive of Lifesearch