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Write off the menu

The more I read about and use the newly implemented menu, the more I agree with the popular consensus that the whole exercise is a waste of time and money for everyone but, regrettably, most of all for the consumer.

I find myself agreeing with the patently laudable motives for this new regime. How it is implemented leaves me with raised blood pressure and short of breath.

The whole thing is a bit like going into Dixons and asking it to provide its operating costs and everyone else’s too. You can be sure that retailers would tell their regulators where to get off.

I have already come across a client who obtained two mortgage quotations from different advisers and thought they showed the costs to be broadly similar. I pointed out that one was hundreds of pounds cheaper than the other.

I want, as much as the next person, to have complete transparency and honesty in our dealings but you can’t summarise in two pages a complicated set of figures.

The FSA seem to launch one initiative after the other and then drop it just as quickly. And each time I waste valuable resources researching and implementing its grand designs.

I have a vision of many FSA departments all beavering away, working on their own special projects – individually they seem to make sense, but as a collective it is a quagmire. It believes its work is simple and undemanding and will improve the lives of consumers. But the reality is somewhat different.

A good example of this is the ethics committee last year. Has anyone heard a squeak more about this initiative? It sounds suspiciously like treating customers fairly to me.

Garry Heath wrote in Money Marketing’s 20th anniversary edition of the “cabal of politicians… who cook up the next problem in the full knowledge that the industry will pay for it.” He goes on to say, “It is not in their vested interests for the industry ever to be seen as a safe environment for the public to invest”. Heath has hit the nail on the head.

My own way to describe this is less poetic. Ben Elton’s book about pollution, called This Other Eden, portrays Greenpeace-style campaigners who turn out to be environmental baddies all along. Create fear and you have a job for life. Clearly there is an imbalance of power. I would love to suggest that our freedom of press is the counter to this but the way things are going, this sinister feeling seems to get worse, not better.

I have often heard the criticism that smaller IFAs should stand up and be counted and respond to the consultation papers that cross our screens. This lack of feedback gives the FSA the impression that it is doing a good job as its consultations go virtually unanswered. Truth is, we are all too busy or too small to respond – this is where Aifa and life offices must do their bit on our behalf.

Instead of good old-fashioned regulations with real and tangible evidence of efficacy, we are subjected to ephemeral rules that cover people’s backs, but do nothing to stop the determined crook.

The confusion we now live with is so deep-rooted and profound that we can’t even decide who’s fault something is once it’s happened. We all know the pharmaceutical analogy – it isn’t the prescriber of a dangerous drug that is blamed but the prescriber of a toxic product seems to be. It’s a contrast that many of my peers have problems reconciling.

So yet again, we have a new system in the menu that seems to be badly thought through, great in theory but less so in the real world.

Tom Kean is compliance officer director at The Analysts

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