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Universal appeal

In the wake of the publication of the RDR interim report, I headed to the US for a conference where all the attendees take zero commission and yet continue to prosper, possibly because they have a specification or protocol of the type of client that they can service in the most profitable and optimum fashion.

While there, I visited Universal Studies in Hollywood and took the studio tour. It was a great experience to visit all the sets and I marvelled at the intellects that created the illusions that capture our imagination. It is imagination like that we need in our sector if we are to convince the public of the value of advice. Next week sees the graduation of more chartered financial planners, evidence that many have made the commitment that will give them that differentiation.

People will pay for value. If we need evidence of this, we need only look at what people will spend their money on.

For example, one of my American friends carries a mobile humidor when he travels so his cigars remain in tip top condition.

If we are to convince people of the value of advice, we need to start to construct our communications to them in a manner where it becomes blatantly obvious that what we have done for them has actually taken them forward and put them in a better position to live their life in the manner they want.

Suitability letters as they currently stand are in a very turgid compliant style of communication which I believe is more about back protection than really communicating to the clients. I fully appreciate that many of these letters are currently being polished up with a view to complying with treating customers fairly. However, despite this, I think there is still the danger that the letters will be too long, too wordy and in language which people find difficult to digest and, in some cases, understand.

Irrespective of what happens with the RDR, communication will remain central to ensuring that individuals have a clear and accurate view of exactly what is going on. We have to understand that most individuals have taken little interest in long-term planning at any point in their life.

If we are to encourage this long-term approach, w have to consider the kind of messages which are successful in spurring consumers to act, for example, the words and messages that are used to prompt purchases.

The successful producers in the movie industry ensure that all their stories have an understandable beginning, middle and an end. Where movies are made and this formula is missing, they employ a method of narrative which is called in Hollywood “Sam the Explainer”. This means that no matter how complex the plot, how deep the discussion, individuals actually understand what is going on. Perhaps we need a Sam the Explainer in our industry and then we can ensure that the individual knows exactly what is happening and when.

On the studio tour, we concluded with a visit to the set of Desperate Housewives – Wisteria Lane. As with all sets, it is all front and there is nothing behind it. If the retail distribution review is to succeed in improving the standard of advice in this sector, professionalism has to be at the centre. If it is not, then it is no better than a film set and the professional advisers and consumers deserve better.

Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners

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