I love it when something crosses my desk that gives me fuel for this column, which I am privileged to be able to write every once in a while.
The fact that I find this particular endeavour cathartic is possibly telling; why do I feel the need to vent my spleen all the time I wonder? Talking to friends and colleagues I’m not alone in this.
Anyway, back to my latest grouse which concerns a client of mine who was frank enough to tell me he had been looking online at alternatives before approaching me to effect a modest annuity for him.
He is a decent sort fundamentally, and has been a ‘slightly objecting’ fee payer over the years, which is fair enough. So his approach did not surprise me in the slightest when he said he’d obtained a quote from someone online before running it past me.
There he was, a perfectly intelligent man, who had done his research beforehand but who did not have the confidence to convert his modest fund into an annuity without someone’s help, which, if I’m honest, perplexed me a little.
Digging a little deeper into his thought process and what he’d tried to do up to that point, it became clear he’d seen the flaws in the Money Advice Service, (and incidentally was flabbergasted it was us IFAs who pay for it – he had no idea) and that he simply did not trust any of the online propositions he had tried.
I had a look at a couple of them and I am not surprised he was stumped; the lack of clarity on these sites was dreadful, and even after closer scrutiny it was not clear who or what they were, who paid them for their service and if they were independent or otherwise.
As dull as it sounds, I’m afraid I was his trusted default position after all these years, which I took as a compliment in fact.
The truly disappointing aspects of this episode for him, however, were twofold. First, that he felt attracted to the MAS for advice at all, when we all know it offers nothing of the sort. And, second, that his subsequent efforts online left him so full of doubt he felt compelled to pay us our £500 minimum fee for what is actually a straightforward transaction.
The fact that we have to charge £500 in the first place is bad enough, but as we all know, the amount of paperwork makes this charge seem cheap these days; it is the fact that his default course of action is still not predetermined and mapped out for him.
Not that I’m ungrateful of course – this is good bread and butter business and an important part of our profession’s commitment to the public. But it is the uncomfortable truth that after all the FSA/FCA’s RDR work trying to clarify what we all do for the consumer, it is clearly an unmitigated flop.
Many have suggested that because our regulator has such an impossible and thankless task on their hands they may as well not try. As mad as that sounds, just think of the savings the whole country would enjoy, enough to subsidise a fantastic compensation scheme, leaving the rest of us to enjoy writing business and advising clients, unencumbered by the minutiae of our now needlessly burdensome existence.
So once again, loud and clear, please can we be left alone, just for a while, to let the dust settle a little?
Tom Kean is director of Thameside Wealth Management