Words can be twisted into any shape and without substance and form mean very little. They are labels we give stuff in an effort to wrap our brains around its underlying nature.
Labels can be good, acting as a useful short-cut to help us get a quick handle on that which is far more complex. Given that we are bombarded by data equivalent to 174 newspapers every day, that has to be a good thing.
But labels (even when excellent distillations of the things they seek to represent) are not always sufficient. And they can also be entirely unhelpful.
“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but I’ve never been able to believe it.
“I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage,” said Anne of Green Gables author LM Montgomery.
A rose probably wouldn’t smell too good either if it was called a “restricted” rose. Or a “restricted, whole of garden” rose.
Greater transparency for consumers is an admirable pursuit shoddily pursued.
The principle behind the effort to define (or re-define) the term “independent” is, in itself, somewhat Sisyphean (Sisyphus being a bloke condemned in Greek mythology to an eternity of rolling
a boulder uphill and then watching it roll back down again).
Consumers already have their own definition of what independence means, dating back to the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders.
To consumers of financial advice, independence means, simply, that the recommendations they may receive are not influenced by provider bias.
It does not relate to the adviser’s ability to assess the suitability of every single product on the market, including some pretty esoteric structures that are not appropriate for most clients anyway.
You cannot change the meaning a word holds for a nation on a whim (sorry, consultation). Nor, in this instance, should you need to.
When questioned, the majority of those who responded to a recent FCA survey thought that “IFA” was a term for financial advisers in general and did not appreciate the difference between independent and restricted.
This is not surprising because consumers (most evidence suggests) could not care less about what they see as obscure labels like “restricted whole of market” that mean nothing to them and add even less to their worlds.
I am all for clarity – except when it becomes obsessive, confusing and to the detriment of all concerned.
Phil Wickenden is founder of So Here’s The Plan – firstname.lastname@example.org and @PhilWickenden