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What would make you join Aifa?

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 The website looks outdated and the stuff it comes out with in the press is a bit out of touch.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


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There are 21 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Having been in regular contact with Paul Smee, Chris Cummings and now Steve Gay I can say hand on heart that AIFA does punch far above its weight, it does need your support but the fundamental problem is there aren’t enough of you who can see what AIFA does and recognise it as being of ‘value’. Comparing AIFA to the PFS/CII or IFP or whatever else is out there is like comparing the proverbial chalk and cheese.

    Most of the people I know don’t see any value in AIFA either, would it be any different if it offered a bit more value for money? If it could tell you what it is doing on so many fronts? Would you join?

    Could you spare the time to discuss membership and what you expect for your money?

    The FSA has said that when it is looking at policy it needs hard evidence from quality research to formulate that policy, unfortunately AIFA could never afford to do this work and present it in a way that the regulators could use to shape the industry instead of decimate it as has been the case all too often.

    That barrel of fish is looking quite empty these days. When will it be your turn?

  2. I too have had much direct contact with AIFA leaders over the past 10-15 years – my firm was one of the first members !!! (I left after Paul Smee). I clearly remember a conversation with a senior FSA official (off the record of course) who thought Cummings was a ‘patsie’ and not taken seriously !!!!

    It may well be that AIFA punched above its weight (although that is distant history anyway) – the point is it doesnt punch the right people or fight the right fights – the fights that really matter to industry.

    Much more importantly, the leaders of AIFA (particularly Cummings) didnt have the faintest idea about anything (I particularly remember a farcical meeting I had with him over the Limitation Act and FOS DISP rules – hilarious truly hilarious !!!!!

    That is one reason why Alan Lakey and I started Adviser Alliance.


    As far as AIFA and RDR/Qualifications/Commission is concerned,
    that is the stuff of farce and nonsense.

    Neil Liversidge is a good well meaning and well infomred guy but him aside, AIFA is dead in the water unless it rethinks its entire position

  3. Until the FSA / FCA is made legally accountable for its screw ups and can be seen to be a regulatory body which acts in the best interests of all involved in the financial advice equation, clients and advisers alike to ensure better outcomes for clients and more informed guidance for fee payers, joining any organisation that cannot use influence and strength to put its arguements forward is a complete waste of money

    Nothing has been achieved by any representations made to the FSA, the RDR cliff edge mentality still abides and the qualifications issue is a joke, sending older advisers who have been operating compliantly for decades, back to school is a farce.

    We will just leave you to it, to pick up the pieces.

  4. I’d join if it was a professional body like Institute of Chartered Accountants, Law Society or Insitution of Chartered Surveyors or Royal Incoropration of Architects etc open at present to level 4 qualified IFAs and IFAs only. And only then if it was dedicated to pushing for self regulation.
    It would need to be run by seconded IFAs

  5. Why are we asked by the FSA to complete financial planning qualifications when financial planning ius an unregulated activity?
    Why must we produce financial plans for clients when neither the wealth managers nor teh banks need to do so?
    Why if intermediation is the regulated activity are we not asked to qualify in that?

  6. As members of a big network, our AIFA fees are heavily discounted, so we’ve stuck with it. Having inherited from Chris Cummings the leadership of an organisation that wasn’t exactly in great shape, Steve Gay finds himself in the very difficult position of is trying to win slippery ground on tricky issues against a heavily armed, heavily armoured and totally unaccountable opponent that says one thing publicly but, behind the scenes, appears to have a very different and more hostile agenda.

    Some would say that Steve should adopt a strategy of outright confrontation, but this would require resources far greater than those actually at his disposal and would probably result in the FSA slamming its door in his face. Nothing therefore would be achieved.

    Alternatively, he can and I believe has chosen to adopt a more diplomatic strategy, whilst lobbying other parties behind the scenes on the crucial issue of accountability.

    There’s no quick, easy or inexpensive fix to what many see as the biggest problem with our current regulatory framework and perhaps we should give Steve a little more credence for what he’s trying to achieve and by what means. It’s not all about fighting big pitched battles and trumpeting the occasional victory. This is a very much more subtle war.

  7. Neil F Liversidge 2nd December 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Okay, dealing with the arguments:

    ‘AIFA is not niche enough for our firm.’

    A recurring theme above is that AIFA does not precisely purely represent the niche that each of the four commentators think their firms fit into. On that basis it never will, so sorry guys, it looks like we’ll never have the pleasure of your company.

    I have met people in this industry who think that they personally and their firm alone can shape the policy of the regulator and the government. Well, it’s a view. If nothing else it brings to mind Mark H McCormack’s definition of most businessmen as ‘one gigantic ego with little arms and legs sticking out of it’.

    The reality is that advice is a broad church. For it to be represented effectively needs give and take by all concerned. In that AIFA is no difficult to a political party. Just as the Tories can accommodate John Redwood on one wing and Ken Clarke on the other, so must a trade association be able to accommodate diversity. And whilst all those that commented are successful figures in this industry that know their jobs and their customers and understand business, they clearly don’t understand how politicians work. Ministers and regulators will hardly ever sit down with a multiplicity of different trade bodies all trying to represent one niche of a larger industry. They do not have the time or the patience. I am choosing my words carefully when I say ‘hardly ever’ rather than ‘never’. Occasionally they might sit down with the smaller of two trade associations, but when they do it is invariably for their own ends as a mechanism to divide and rule. Learn from history: Thatcher’s government didn’t give a toss about the Nottinghamshire miners represented by the UDM but they were happy to wine and dine the UDM’s leaders to use them against Scargill and the NUM. Ultimately though all the pits went, and NUM and UDM miner alike went on the dole.

    So, dealing with the argument of ‘AIFA is not niche enough for us’ I say ‘wise up’. It can’t be ‘niche’ for anyone; if it was it would not work. Recognise its diversity as a strength, not a weakness. We can even accommodate the prima donnas.

    ‘AIFA Needs to Show What It’s Achieved’
    Yes we probably do, fair comment. But on the other hand it’s not wise to trumpet every victory from the rooftops. If you do then the next is twice as hared to win. Lobbying is for sophisticates and our critics should be sophisticated enough to understand that fact.

    ‘I am looking for a service from a provider’
    You fundamentally misunderstand what a trade body is about, which is POLITICAL REPRESENTATION. AIFA does not exist to compete with networks or service providers.

    ‘AIFA doesn’t have an all singing all dancing website’
    Correct, we don’t, but is that a reason not to join? A Dutch friend of mine has a wonderful expression for those who are over-concerned with trivia, but sadly I can’t replicate it here.

    ‘What’s in it for me?’
    Individually, probably not a lot, but as a part of an industry under attack by misguided regulators, politicians and journalists, a hell of a lot.
    The choice you face is one of being represented or not, simple as that. Multiple trade body representation and (even more laughably) firm-level representation does not work, however large the ego that deludes otherwise.
    JFK famously said ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. I guess that sums up why anyone should join any political entity of any kind. You either get it or you don’t. But if you join you can help make it what you think it should be. All I’ve read above amounts to a ‘me me me’ attitude. Howsabout we try some ‘we we we’ guys?

    So, will AIFA survive? In the words of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi ‘Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / ‘Til it’s gone …’
    Here’s hoping IFAs don’t have to learn the hard way.

  8. I was a founding member of AIFA which had great ideals and was promising but they appear to have lost their way over the years. They have been ‘running with the Big Guys’ and have forgotten their roots and those they should have been helping.
    Look at the public service strikes we have just had where the unions were putting forward a very good argument for their members, getting public support for a position which is selfish. What AIFA needs to do us be the same, argue a position for IFAs which should be easier than that which the unions have done as our cause is just and not selfish. But they couldn’t and havent done that and as a result, I think, the IFA is a dying group save for several large companies who are servicing high net worth clients.
    To get the backing of IFAs. Get vocal, militant, organisational. Put yourselves in the media and show what a Klutz Sants and the FSA / FCA really are. Show the effect of their ill conceived and poorly researched legislation on the ability of ordinary people to receive future financial advice. You don’t have to lie, just be factual and vociferous!!!!!

  9. Dennis Burling ACII APFS, Chartered Financial Plan 2nd December 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Unfortunately as previously mentioned, until the FSA chiefs can be made accountable for what they are doing to a once prosperous industry, no trade body is likely to have any effect whatsoever.

    As to eligibility for membership, I duly expect around 75% of all advisers to go restricted in 2013 in any event so the IFA only argument will just become redundant as funding will simply dry up.

  10. I am all for We we we Neil as long as WE are all singing from the same (overwelming majority) hymn sheet !!

    AIFA have been singing from the Spice Girls album !!

  11. The best advertising I’ve yet seen for AIFA Martin Bamford doesn’t like it. Get me an application form..

  12. AIFA failed its core membership miserably with the RDR fraud.

    It seems that members have now voted with their feet and left in droves.

    Its now being proped up by a few of the large networks, who have now resorted to auto enrolling their members into membership of AIFA whether they like it or not. (legally known as Fraudulent Misrepresentation)

  13. I haven’t read the reponses yet, but would suggest you think of it as a ven diagram.

    IFP plus PFS – Is a ven diagram that encomposes one set of adviser.

    IFP plus PFS plus AIFA encompases another group and so on.

    The question is, which group or groups do you want to jump in to bed with and when.

    It’s getting a bit like political parties now and is why I am against compulsory membership of ANY accredited/professional body and currently you cannot obtain an SPS as far as I am aware without joining one of teh clubs who have an ethical code that many people completely ignore once they have signed it and is gold plating of teh FSA’s approved person regime rules.

  14. OK, read all comments now.
    I joined AIFA becuase Harry Katz got me by my moral short and curlies.
    I left AIFA, because it was failing my moral short and curlies.
    I rejoined AIFA as whilst I was suspicious of Steven Gay, the direction of AIFA seems to be moving back in the right direction, in part due to Neil Liversidge’s efforts.
    If the four posters who haven’t joined, don’t join a body that represents non tied (notice I don’t say Independant as I suspect as anotehr poster said we may see a massive move from Independant to whole of market restricted post Dec 2012), then who do they want to represent them?
    As an individual, Gill Cardy is excellent, but as an organisation…… IFA only now is fine, but post 2012?
    My friends at Adviser Alliance? No because they have specific issues they are focused on, but that doesn’t stop you joining them as well as AIFA, PFS or IFP if you believe there are moral issues here that cannot be pursued by the inclusive agendas of a different lobby group.

    Yes it costs money to be a member of more than one group, but the cost will be even larger (IMHO), if we do not influence people where we can and kick them where we can’t.

  15. And …. Oh yes, as a sole adviser firm, my membership of AIFA and AA combined probably costs something like 4 times more than what it would per adviser of a firm with several advisers, which at least one of those who is critical of AIFA is.
    And that is NOT having a go at Martin (;-) as I do appreciate the offer he has made before of coming down to see what his firm does and the fact they have done this for many who have not got there head round adviser charging.

    When in branch baking I was always a union or staff association member as it is the only way to get representation to an employer. The FSA is treating us all as such, so work out which or how many unions you want and can afford to be in.

  16. Neil Liversidge leaving is one thing. The way he treated me and spoke to me when I rang him was appalling, If I had to rely on him for help god help me!!!

  17. Neil F Liversidge 2nd December 2011 at 4:08 pm

    @ Richard Wright: Richard, you called me out of the blue to berate me for not replying to some post you had made on a blog 6 weeks before and then carried on berating me for something you THOUGHT Aifa had promised to do a year before I joined the Board. For the avoidance of all doubt my job spec as an (unpaid) Aifa director does not include trawling the blogs to reply to what you consider your pearls of wisdom and nor do I answer for decisions made outside the time I have served. I’m civil with those who are civil with me – take note for the future.

    @ Derek Gair – in a lighter vein! – I’m a lousy singer, so not guilty as charged, but I wouldn’t have minded performing with a couple of the Spice Girls …

  18. Back @ Neil. Your failure to even understand when your being rude and abusive (including your constant use of the F word during the conversation) is another reason why I wouldnt go near an organisation with you in it. I was neither rude or abusive to you, you just didnt like what I was saying. The fact that your still trying to justify yourself speaks volumes.

  19. Incompetent Regulators Award Team 4th December 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Easy one to answer to the headline.

    1 Change the name to AFA – Association of financial advisers
    2 Take on the FSA regarding the flawed and expensive RDR – too many things to list here that are wrong
    3 Take on the FOS and show them for what they are e.g. A government backed Claims Management firm abusing it’s power playing the political card for the benefits of votes
    4 Sort out the flawed FSCS by showing them for they are also e.g. another flawed system – too many examples to list

    If AIFA did the above the membership fees would flood in. The problem is they have proved they don’t have the stomach for real democracy and fairness by being complicit with the regulators fro far too long. That’s AIFA’s own fault by the way have acted (or not acted) historically. They may get one last chance, but that looks doubtful whilst one has a director general who runs with both the fox and the hounds!

  20. Neil F Liversidge 5th December 2011 at 9:22 am

    @Richard Wright: You clearly have a lot of time on your hands. I suggest using it to pass your exams.

  21. What a redundant arguement !

    AIFA is not an organisation which can be seen to have any influence whatsoever, Sants and his crew take no notice of the IFA sector and those of us at the latter end of our careers need to wise up, we are also redundant. We are dinosaurs because we naively thought that by doing the best for our clients and allowing them to spread the costs of initial advice and ongoing services over a the life of a plan, via a very convenient method of commission was a viable business model.

    The model wasn’t broken it just needed fixing, but someone decided to demolish the IFA sector at the FSA and start with a blank piece of paper.

    Trouble with a blank piece of paper is that there is generally nothing on it and any new start has to have a goal before the end game can be identified.

    I know, why don’t we put the goal as NO MORE IFAs and start from their.

    Job Done !

    A brave new world of higher qualified (academically gifted but common sense depleted) so called advisers (young bucks with no experience in dealing with the public but bags of enthusiasm to charge lots of money for their limited knowledge and expertise) will soon take over our sector of the industry, pontificate that fee paying advice and service is the only method of operating, deal only with the top percentage of wage earners and HNW clients and to be brutally frank, leave the ordinary working family to the dedicated sales techniques (execution only of course) of the banks and their pathetic products.

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