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Widows of opportunity

by Robert Reid Birthday parties have the potential to provide a thoroughly enjoyable evening and Scottish Widows’ party to recognise 20 years of the Widow was no exception.

There is no doubt that in a sector that had no brands to speak of 20 years ago, the Widow put that right and commitment to this brand has not wilted since the then sales and marketing director Frank Attrill conceived the idea.

The lack of tangibility in what we offer is offset when providers back their brand, yet so few of them do so.

To build a brand is not easy and, as my old pal Lucian Camp will tell you, no IFA has ever succeeded, nor will they while they have so little control over quality during the advice and implementation process.

Even if we cannot build a brand in our individual firms, joining the Personal Finance Society is a good place to start. The more that join, the easier it will be to start the process that will allow us to maintain a good quality of standards across the sector and all levels of advice.

It is not intended that the PFS dictates style but we do need to help set standards, if it is to emerge as the professional body for all in the advisory sector. Our major task is to ensure that the public know what to expect from using a professional adviser, tied or independent.

Recent press comment following Barclays’ suggestion that the client would be better off with it rather than using an IFA reminded me of the Office of Fair Trading’s review of polarisation, when a submission from a major network gave the OFT ammunition which led to CP121 and so on.

The network had foolishly stated that its members reviewed the entire market before any purchase was recommended. Others added fuel to the fire by stating that their panels were not influenced by commission.

The danger with reacting too extremely to Barclays’ allegations on standards in the IFA sector is that in some cases we may prove it right.

The banks have for long enough failed to make the most of their position when marketing long-term investments and other products but I honestly feel that, should they recruit management that understand financial planning, they will soon squeeze out all but the most professional IFA firms.

On reflection, perhaps that is not a problem but let us not wait to find out.

If you are sitting there with no more than the FPC, extract your digit and prove what you keep telling the rest of us. After all, you may just find new opportunities that would otherwise remain beyond your reach. The public are of the opinion that IFAs are professionally qualified, even when they are not. This mismatch has to be addressed and soon.

As we approach the new year, it is time for resolutions. Make raising the level of tested competence a priority for you and your team. I say this not to boost income at the Chartered Insurance Institute but for us to survive and prosper. Benchmark qualifications are like indemnity commission – not long for this world.

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