The Three Certainties of Human Life are Death, Taxes, and more regulation

The Three Certainties of Human Life are Death, Taxes, and more regulation

“The regulator has found concerns over value for money in drawdown, including significant variance in charges, which can be complex, opaque or tough to compare, so has set out plans to force firms to show a one-year charge figure in pounds and pence in the key features illustration they provide to consumers”.

It is a commercial world out there and I can think of no other industry that has a regulatory insistence that charges for what they make/ build/ sell have to be granularly declared.

When you buy a new house, is there a breakdown of building and material costs supplied with the contract? The same with a new car: design.testing, parts and labour. A prescription drug does not come with a breakdown per tablet for research, development and testing, a holiday cost does not breakdowns for flights, hotels, food, drink or flight. Supermarkets do not declare what the business costs are for selling you a pack of sausages.

A bit simplistic I know but if regulation stops messing with fixing what in many cases is not broken and more people use a financial adviser, the world of independent advice and consumer trust may be a better place.

As an owner in the 1970’s of a waterbed (with the attendant life affirming fond memories) the illustrative metaphor of the movement in a water-filled mattress seems to be a common sense albeit simplistic description supported by a little known mathematical formula called Bode’s Sensitivity Integral.

Bode’s waterbed theory ‘outcome’ is already well illustrated in the mobile phone and utilities industries where regulation and political interference fixes or manipulates the prices of basic products and services only for consumers to see complicated pricing structures ensue by way of significant increases in the price of peripherals and additional services as a direct consequence.

Thiseffect is a phenomenon that should increasingly cause concern to those who regulate the industry and those it regulates in regard to pricing and the detriment the post RDR world has wrought upon the intended beneficiary- the consumer.

It is the natural but not necessarily intended potential to squeeze one part of a complicated and complex regulated business model (and the attendant regulatory processes) to cause a serious bulge elsewhere in the process.

So, the theorising in RDR should have foreseen that in achieving:

  • the elimination of bias in the market
  • ensuring the adviser is the true agent of the consumer
  • clarity over the costs of advice
  • and various other factors,

the industry would no doubt see the bulge appear somewhere else.

And this has been seen in costs in every conceivable way and particularly for consumers.

Cost is something that FCA regulation incurs for firms, often with little thought of logic or affordability and with little benefit analysis being done on the consumer impact and detriment it created.

So how else did the theory manifest itself?

In ensuring the adviser is the true agent of the consumer, the result was that the mass-market consumer did not, does not want to pay for advice that had previously been seen as free.

When a consumer is able to obtain lower prices from an adviser or a provider for drawdown, is it possible that other consumers will have to pay more for the same input from another adviser or provider firm as a result?

Is this bad for consumers?

The asymmetric exercise of regulatory or consumer power can lead to consumer detriment through raising other consumers’ advice and provider charges- the Waterbed effect.

While a large and powerful provider firm or distribution channel improves its own terms by exercising its market power in getting cost reductions, the terms of its lesser resourced competitors can deteriorate sufficiently so as ultimately to increase the average price of advice – the Waterbed effect.

It seems to me that the only organisations in the world of financial services that should raise serious “concerns over value for money, including significant variance in charges, which can be complex, opaque or tough to compare” are the FCA, FOS and the FSCS. 

We never see a breakdown of costs, budget breakdowns yes but costs????

IFA Antony Cousins at SPF rightly comments that “value for money has always been important to clients, however with returns from financial products expected to be lower over in the short to medium term, the level of charges are now even more relevant.  For many years Financial Advisers Fee Agreements have had to specify the exact service(s) being provided and the associated initial and ongoing cost in pounds and pence, hence I see no reason why providers illustrations for drawdown should not follow this model”.

He goes on to note that this should be“coupled with an educational programme to enhance customers understanding of a highly technical area would remove some of the scepticism in the industry”. 

There is some suspicion that the FCA are more concerned about clients going direct to providers in this drawdown market and not taking advice where we have to stipulate and review all these costs.

Regulation has created a race for the bottom on price. I am not sure that the average consumer ‘buys’ financial advice on the cheapest cost. I think that for the mass market consumer it could be about not paying anything at all as they see the pension plans providers they have been invested in for years should provide that advice for free.

This is in turn a problem for providers who are predominantly distributing their products via the intermediated channel. They do not want to carry out work, with added customer care regulatory liabilities or redress, that they see, is an IFAs role. But if the client has either been disenfranchised by RDR segmentation or just does want to pay what else can be done.

Waterbed effect at work again????

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