The most recent Aifa accounts show the organisation ran a loss of almost £195,000 in the last financial year, with member subscriptions falling by 14 per cent. Following its decision to open membership to restricted advisers and with several other organisations trying to offer the same services, Money Marketing asks four non-member IFAs what Aifa would have to do to make them consider joining. Interviews by Rachael Adams
’Other bodies seem better than Aifa at getting things done’
Aifa feels too old-school to me. The website looks outdated and the stuff it comes out with in the press is a bit out of touch. Chris Cummings was good for Aifa and really what it needed was for someone to take his work a step further. The head of Aifa needs to be charismatic and reach out to the IFA community.
Aifa’s face consists of only two things at the moment – the website and the director general. The website is outmoded, which says a lot about the organisation. Second, I do not even know who the current leader is, which says even more about it. This needs to change.
The problem for Aifa is there are a lot of competing organisations out there now. That is another reason why I am not a member. I am a member of the Institute of Financial Planning and the Chartered Insurance Institute and you cannot be a member of every group because they all carry a cost. These other bodies seem better at getting things done. Aifa is at the bottom of that pile.
Although it lobbies on behalf of IFAs to the Government, Aifa has to show what it has achieved from this lobbying. It would need to say: “We have done this, this and this,” for me to consider joining. I know Aifa lobbies but how effective has it been? That question needs answering.
Along with concrete evidence of its achievements, we also need examples of what Aifa intends to do in the future.
I have not seen the accounts but if the state of affairs for Aifa is looking pretty sorry then it may as well just bang that last nail in the coffin.
Mel Kenny, chartered financial planner, Radcliffe & Newland
’’As a financial planner, I am looking for a service from a provider”
Aifa does not provide anything I see as beneficial. As a financial planner, I am looking for a service from a provider. Bodies such as the CII, the Personal Finance Society and the IFP provide me with service standards, training and access to companies. Aifa does not provide any of that and it would have to provide something more tangible to encourage me to join.
What has happened is that lots of different trade groups have sprung up and now because money is getting tighter, a lot of financial planners are looking at them and saying: “Is there really any value here?” If not, they go and get that elsewhere.
I think Aifa’s service standards are the main thing that needs to change to attract members. I am a member of a club in St Albans and if I go to the club it has a list of the benefits it offers. That is the sort of thing Aifa has to start to address.
It is getting a lot of flak about not looking after its members, who felt they were left high and dry. The directors took an arrogant approach and therefore we have just walked. That attitude needs to change.
Aifa needs to go back to its independent roots, although this may be the wrong time to do that given IFAs are all packing up in preparation for the retail distribution review.
I am a member of a group of IFAs in Harrow. There are 18 of us and we meet on the last Friday of each month to go over various ideas on what is going on.
The LIA used to provide that kind of service, the PFS offers it to a certain extent and I feel that Aifa needs to get that impetus back.
The idea of Aifa as the great go-to company for everyone looking to find a local IFA will be overtaken by the internet.
You can find loads of advisers on websites such as Touchstone, which I used when hiring sales- people. Aifa has been left behind technologically and needs to catch up.
When a potential client phones me up, they are coming to me because they trust me. It is that trust that Aifa needs to regain.
Ian Lees, principal, Ian Lees & Co Asset Management
’The only time you hear of it is when it’s opposing X or Y’
We have been approached twice by Aifa and the charges proposed were contradictory. The first time, the charge was into the thousands and we were not interested. We then received another approach, which was more reasonable.
We also do not believe Aifa represents the professional standards we would want it to. It does not represent the new model adviser, which is something we whole-heartedly embrace.
The first thing Aifa could consider is surveying IFAs. We have never been surveyed by Aifa. For the people who do not sign up there are corresponding questions of “Why?” and “What would we need to do for you to embrace us?” More engagement would help.
Aifa is there to represent IFAs and yet does not seem to engage with the industry.
Also, it almost seems to be involved in the mucky fights. The only time you ever hear of it is when it is opposing X or opposing Y but where are the positives?
Aifa would argue it is a lobby-style group that stands the ground for IFAs but if you take the IFP as an example, it had Financial Planning Week recently, which was a very positive process.
There is always a balance of positives and negatives. When you have an organisation where the benefits are overshadowed by lobbying/ arguing, it does not instil members with confidence.
I understand Gill Cardy is thinking about setting up a similar organisation. If Aifa was nailing 90 per cent of its work correctly, there would be no need for anybody else. From that point of view, Aifa is a model that has dwindled, which is also confirmed by the changes it is making to increase its membership capacity.
The RDR and capital adequacy requirements will see these numbers continue to dwindle and Aifa will need volume.
Our industry is changing rapidly, whether we like it or not. If an organisation is unable to move with that rapid change, the reality is it will start to struggle.
Keith Churchouse, director, Churchouse Financial Planning
’Aifa must radically change its mission for us to consider membership’
We have never joined Aifa because we do not think it represents the type of IFA firm we believe ourselves to be. We feel Aifa is probably representative of the lowest common denominator, which is routine with any big representative body.
Aifa almost has to pander to that market and go where the money and the scale is. We see it as representing more the sales side of the industry – the part of the market that is being forced to change as a result of the RDR.
For us to consider membership, we would have to see Aifa radically change its mission and represent forward-thinking, future-ready IFA firms that work on a professional basis.
Its out-of-touch leadership would have to change as well, not necessarily because of the way the IFA market has changed but because the world has changed.
Trade bodies need to be better engaged with their members and they can use technology to understand the important issues.
Good use of technology is basic. We all judge organisations by their websites to a certain extent – how up-to-date they seem to be and how they use technology. Aifa needs to work on this.
I have no doubt Aifa is doing some good things and there are elements of what it does that are useful for all IFAs, not just its members.
On the lobbying side of things, it is currently talking about doing work in Europe. There is a lot of stuff that probably goes on behind the scenes but it needs to publicise this more.
I could tell you Aifa lobbies but could not say much more, although as non-members I am not sure we should be expected to know.
The main issue for us is whether Aifa represents the future IFA or an old model that is doomed to extinction. Unfortunately, there is still a hard core of the IFA market that believes the RDR is not going to happen. In a sense, Aifa is having to delay any changes to its mission in favour of that group, which makes up a big part of its membership.
Competition is also an issue for Aifa and that will only get worse. New bodies are launching that seem hungrier and more engaged with their membership. We have not seen a body we feel entirely comfortable representing us but that could change in the next 12 months.
Martin Bamford, managing director, Informed Choice