Go to immediately jail, do not pass go

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers & Paraplanners

7 Jan 2019

Go to immediately jail, do not pass go

On day two of 2019 yet another IFA has been jailed for fraud. Neil Bartlett, 53, of Delamere Road, Ainsdale, used £4.5m of his victims’ money to fund some of the usual, favoured by all fraudsters, indulgencies of foreign travel, top hotels, prostitutes, exotic cars, boats and gambling.

In this case, again, like so many others, it involved investing other people’s money, pensions and often life savings into what they thought was a safe investment account with interest.

By safe, that means it is being paid to the advisory firm to disperse according to the advice plan. But in a not uncommon twist, Bartlett had created a sole trader account with the same name as the company he worked for and paid himself the money.

It is clear that in just about every case of fraud it involves client money being paid to a client account for onward distribution. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred all goes as intended but it is the one time that results in what we see again and again in client money fraud.

Readers may wish to Google search (other search engines are available- in BBC speak) fraud IFA 2018 where the scale of this fiscal disembowelling can be viewed. It is in millions and guess how it is dealt with?

This type of fraud is called, in legal vernacular a ’Serious large-scale confidence fraud’. A common factor is the targeting of known to be vulnerable victims. Also, they will often be multiple frauds, i.e. many victims are deceived in the same way.

As an example, this accusation could be levelled at the victims of the British Steel pension fund debacle.

These offences are usually charged under the Fraud Act where the maximum sentence permitted by law is 10 years imprisonment.

For this adviser’s type of fraud, sentences of up to 7 years are common if the fraud is in excess of £500,000.

For the now ex IFA, the sentence will see early release for being a good ‘boy’.

I am not sure if the FSCS ever try to recover from the now ex IFAs or indeed if asset confiscation is possible to offset some of the redress, but one thing is for sure, no matter what regulation is put in place, what checks are made, the opportunity is still there for this practice to continue.

When I was a broker consultant in the early ‘80’s, some IFA firms, referred to then as brokers, had client accounts’ and operated something I recall as being broker bonds. A bit like a wrap or platform investment in a way but it was in house.

I cannot recall any frauds but there were regulatory concerns and also concern from my employer at the time that this holding of client money where the investment was in an inhouse designed and built vehicle could be subject to abuse.

So, role on and working lifetime and fraud opportunity continues in abundance. The cost to clients when the opportunity is exploited is massive, the cost to the compliant firms is huge too and of course unexpected when the FSCS come calling.

The time has come to put a stop to regulated firms holding client money when the intended destination is to a regulated providers funds, wraps, platforms. As an extra measure, despite all the good arguments put forward by IFAs, regulated firms should NOT be allowed to deal in unregulated activity or markets, this would relieve the burden on PI insurers, FCSC calls and IFA firms when a regulated advice firm advises upon unregulated products. Unregulated products are often just that for a reason.

The ability of consumers to execute instant electronic transfer of funds really renders holding client money an unnecessary and expensive temptation. To stop this would see PI and other regulatory costs reduce and go some way to restoring trust in an industry, sorry, profession, that has taken a battering and will continue to do so every time money ends up in the hands of someone or something it should not.

Just a thought.

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FCA suggests clear out of sales dinosaurs

FCA suggests clear out of sales dinosaursArthur’s thought for the day: “You make contact with your customer. Understand their needs. And then flog them something they could well do without.”

I think this may be what one senior figure at the FCA’s perception of financial services sales ‘persons’ is?

David Blunt, head of conduct specialists at the Financial Conduct Authority, speaking at a recent City & Financial conference explained:“Where we want to get to is for firms to have a real sense of personal responsibility for all they do in financial services.

He then went on to say, “Are sales people who have risen to the top the right people to be leading today”? 

As a retired IFA and the founder of IFA community Panacea Adviser, I find his thought process deeply offensive. Is he suggesting that sales people are a sub class. Sounds a bit like the ‘Brexit remainer’ argument about leavers- that they were too stupid, too ignorant, racists, xenophobes……you get the drift.

His Linkedin profile shows him starting his career working for City solicitors Hogan Lovells going on the well-trodden path of articles through to a fully qualified solicitor.

I suspect that David Blunt has little knowledge beyond the walls of regulation and academia. After leaving Hogan Lovells in October 1998, his entire career has been spent in regulation of some sort. Firstly, with a couple of years at the Stock Exchange then from 2000 it has been climbing ever upwards at the FSA and then the FCA.

It was said that intelligence does not fit easily with common sense. The curse of the regulator.

We all agree that happy customers (positive outcomes is the phrase to use in 2018) are the key to any successful business.

But with a working life spent entirely in the world of regulation, I am deeply offended as is the fashion today, on the part of others too, that he should ask the question “ Are sales people who have risen to the top the right people to be leading today”? 

If his Linkedin profile is a yardstick, this is an individual who has no experience of what it takes to raise the money to start a business, especially a regulated business, grow a business, deal with all the troubles that can go with it or has any idea whatsoever about running a business. And amongst the hardest these days is a financial services business.

Sales are bad, sales-people are bad, regulators are good is the message spouting forth? Really?

Any business is built on the fact that it has something that somebody is prepared to pay for. Tangible, or in the world of financial services, intangible.

Any business requires somebody to sell the services, goods, or in the financial services world someone to ‘sell’ the ‘advice proposition’.

Nobody ever bought a financial services product. Historically they were ‘sold’ it, often by direct sales.

That is bad in 2018, it is now by advice.

Bad like the new ’snowflake’ thinking about Churchill, Cecil Rhodes, Bomber Harris or even this month ‘Prince Charming’. All have done bad things it seems. Disney’s ‘Prince Charming’ is probably top of the pile for kissing Snow White without permission.

Back in the day, the reward for the ‘sale’ was described as a commission, successful sales people made a lot of it, the unsuccessful ones fell by the wayside.

By the way, people saved then, paid into pensions, had life cover and did not see advice as something to pay for as it was already included within the sales process- excuse the simplicity, but life was simpler then.

Today, success in sales is not measured in terms of commission, it is now called something else. It is a metric referred to as fee income- based upon advice from a professional. That person being highly qualified with a ‘proposition’ to offer but, with a product invariably attached.  As an aside that will doubtless bring scorn waves raining down, in most cases the fee for the ‘propositions advice proposal’ is closely resembling what was previously known as commission.

A successful advisor is measured in fee income. But really it is still ‘sales’. After all, if an advisor can find no paying clients to give advice to, they fall into the same category as those back in the day, a failure.

Mr Blunt should note that in financial services provider firms there are huge numbers of people who rely on advisors promoting their advice solutions for their livelihoods.

He should also note that most financial advisors are small business owners, if they are sole traders or in partnership, they carry responsibility to the grave at the moment for their actions.

I think that is what is called ‘personal responsibility’.

In any business, the sales people are the driving force yet for some reason, sales in financial services is a dirty word.  Even Hogan Lovells require business getters, people who can get new clients that they can charge fees to.

There are some fantastic people in this industry, many have come from a sales background. I am not sure how many regulatory staff have made the transition to sales in a commercial environment.

Oh, there is one, Rory Percival.

David Blunt “must be on them stair rods” (as Arthur would say), he should be careful what he wishes for.

There may be some out there like me, looking back over the failings of the various regulators we have had- NASDM, FIMBRA, PIA, FSA, FCA, asking Mr Blunt what consumer detriment his actions and those whose actions he manages could be accused of causing. After all, with some 19 years of his working life being spent in Canary Wharf (plus the last couple of weeks in Stratford) and looking with the #metoo generation mindset, there must be something?

But silly me, as ‘Sir Hector’ once said, if you want a regulator to take responsibility for what they do, nobody would want to do the job.

Those in regulation are the one’s who have failed the consumer. They are always right after the event, never show foresight or a willingness to apply forward thinking to regulation.

They kill businesses with that lack of foresight burnished with cost.

It is the consumer who suffers by way of firms passing on those increased costs and charges incurred paying to keep them safe from the detriment the regulator ‘coulda/ shoulda’ spotted years ago.

The question I would ask is “Are people who have risen to the top of the regulatory world with no real-world commercial experience or business success, the right people to be leading regulators today”?  

*The brilliant actor who played Arthur Daly was George Edward Cole, who died aged 90 on the 6thAugust 2015

Back to the future

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

9 Oct 2017

Back to the future

Another major brand has announced that it is about to increase its financial planning operation with a hire of some 30 new advisers and another 70 next years. A sure sign that the 2017 advice gap provided both opportunity and a solution to dealing with the thousands of disenfranchised customers of major, highly reputable brands who have to find a way to service former IFA clients who no longer have an IFA, having fallen victim (if that is the right word) to IFA segmentation since RDR.

In 2011 I noted there was growing concern about what consumer reaction would be to what has now been done in their name by the then regulator, the FSA.

I observed that as there were only so many high-net worth clients out there, what will happen to the mass market advice model, and asked what will happen to the “orphan clients”? Will we see the return of the “Man from the Pru” and provider ‘sales’ forces?

It would seem I was right some six years later.

Trade press of 4th March 2010 alerted readers to a then quite astonishing admission by the FSA’s then Head of Investment Policy Peter Smith.

It reported that when speaking at a Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment Private Wealth Management Conference in London, he spoke about the potential for consumers rejecting the big idea about adviser charging and confessed, “If consumers still do not want to engage with it then we probably will have to do something else.”

This really beggars belief. The various discussion and consultation documents have thrown up numerous proposals, many of which have been dropped, reformed or deformed and it is absolutely clear that much RDR directional thinking had been navigation at sea with only a world atlas to chart the way- something that will give a general idea of what landmass is where but zero detail about the hazards presented by the ocean the vessel is travelling on.

This may be acceptable behaviour in regulation-world but let’s not forget that it is the advisers and consumers whose boats would be heading for the rocks.

It was clear in 2010 that the regulator failed to understand the psychology of adviser/client interaction. In 2011 it was the same but it has no intention of listening to the responses from experienced industry navigation professionals, providers, lawyers, MPs, trade bodies and of course advisers.

Not content with being the body that was asleep at the helm when Northern Rock slammed into the rocks followed by the rest of the UK banking “Armada” it seems the FSA also wanted to be remembered as the quango responsible for the decimation of retail financial services.

With all this in mind, perhaps we should look back to 17th June 1999 and the Commons 1st reading of the FSMA 2000 bill and ask the question, why does nobody in regulation ever learn from it’s past mistakes.

The transcript of this debate from 1999 highlighted  so many issues of concern that were expressed then with the seemingly strange phenomenon in the regulatory world of foresight!

Nobody listened then and I am reminded of the quote from the late Bob Monkhouse when thinking about the impact of poorly thought out regulation upon the consumer of tomorrow “They laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now”.

The industry is not laughing now, neither was the mass-market consumer after the 1st January 2013.

Regulation, will we ever get it right?

mansleepingI had the great fortune to sell my IFA practice 10 years ago, a driver for taking the plunge was that having worked under the ‘control’ of 4 different regulatory regimes- NASDIM, FIMBRA, PIA and FSA, the prospect of never seeing a balance of common sense and fairness painted a very bleak future.

The jury may still be out in that regard, but I think we are at the stage where the Judge may be directing the Jury that a majority decision would suffice.

I am not normally driven to negativity, cynisim maybe, and while I do see an absolute need to have regulation of financial services, it seems to me that wherever there is regulation, chaos and extreme cost is the outcome with blame being laid at the door of the weakest.

Some key facts to digest:

  • Regulation is poorly thought out in just about every industry
  • It is reactionary rather than pro-active
  • It is not always retrospective, although in financial services it seems to be an exception
  • Nobody ever listens to the voice of experience
  • Nobody ever learns from past failings
  • Nobody in regulation admits failure
  • Nobody in regulation takes the blame
  • Everyone in regulation benefits from ‘learnings’ and earnings
  • Regulatory failure is rewarded not punished
  • Regulation is an industry, it is hermaphroditic, capable of self procreation and without something to bash it would have no purpose. As Keith Richards (Rolling Stone not PFS) once said “In the business of crime there’s two people involved, and that’s the criminal and the cops. It’s in both their interests to keep crime a business, otherwise they’re both out of a job.”

 

Regulation should not be pursued at any cost and in such a way, applied like a tattoo only to be regretted when the effect of the alcoholic induced stupor that fuelled its creation has gone away. The NHS is an example of regulation on ‘acid’.

Has the consumer benefited? Many may say no. Access to financial advice for the masses has been exterminated. Even if it was freely available, there is insufficient capacity to service any more than around 10% of the population based on the recent Heath Report and the FAMR will not correct that imbalance as was intended.

In 2009 the great and the good expressed concerns about the impact of RDR and how it will disenfranchise consumers, here but just a few to prove my “Nobody ever listens to the voice of experience” comment

  • Otto Thoresen – CEO ABI, then of Aegon: “The RDR is only helping wealthy customers”
  • AXA April 2009: “We will lobby the FSA to make sure the RDR does not mean less are able to access advice”
  • Institute of Financial Services: “RDR will impair financial advice before improving it”
  • Alasdair Buchanan Scottish Life November 2009: “Sales advice is a real cop out and extremely confusing to investors”
  • Stephen Gay – Aviva June 2009: “The regulator has failed to consider the danger of adviser charging limiting access to advice for those on lower incomes”
  • Lord Lipsey: “Consumers in the middle (not high net worth or money guidance fodder) to be sold products by banks under the contradiction that is sales advice”
  • Walter Merricks former Chief Ombudsman: “I think it would be unwise to count on the assumption that complaints from the retail investment world are suddenly going to go down as a result (of the RDR)”
  • Deutsch Bank report August 2009: “There has been industry talk of 30% or even 50% of IFAs exiting the industry post 2012, which is not impossible”
  • Paul Selly HBOS: “Bancassurers set to benefit”
  • Richard Howells Director Zurich Life June 2009: “The big question mark is still around what benefit it will have for the ultimate consumer. I am still not convinced that all of these changes, when you sit down with a consumer and explain them, actually give rise to a consumer benefit that I can really hang my hat on.”
  • Martin Lewis Money Saving Expert June 2009: “There’s a worrying possibility that the FSA is about to kill off independent financial advice in the UK for all but the wealthy. I do hope I’m wrong. I’m not convinced most people will want to pay for advice. The commission route has the advantage that you don’t pay a fee each and every time you want information; you can go without the worry of laying out cash. What I find most galling though is that bank-based advisers – those primarily responsible for PPI miss-selling, endowment miss-selling, investment miss-selling and generally poor advice all round are still to be allowed to be remunerated based on the number of sales.”
  • Janet Walford OBE, Editor Money Management Sept 2009: “I am not paranoid enough to believe that the FSA has a hidden agenda to do away with small IFAs, but the law of unintended consequences may well mean that this will be the result. This is especially the case when set alongside the myriad of other proposals that are costing some £430 million to set up, with ongoing fees of £40 million pa thereafter, a mind boggling amount of cash.
  • Peter Hamilton barrister, Source: Money Management Oct 2009, Scrapping the FSA by Marie Jennings MBE: “The Financial Services and Markets Act does not permit the FSA to cancel an authorisation simply because the FSA has changed its views on what the appropriate qualifications should be…. It is one thing to impose new rules for new entrants to the IFA profession, it is quite another thing to disqualify someone who is already qualified.”
  • David Hazelton of Tax Incentivised Savings Association (TISA) 30/10/09: The RDR could be detrimental to consumers both in terms of higher product charges and an increase in the cost of advice, warns the Tax Incentivised Savings Association (TISA). Implementation costs for the RDR are being “seriously underestimated” and product charges will consequently have to be raised.
  • Robert Kerr, head of retail distribution development at Scottish Widows says: The RDR could have the unintended consequence of “disenfranchising” the majority of consumers from financial advice. “Our key concern is the RDR proposals will act to drive advice upmarket, with financial advice becoming the preserve of the wealthy leaving mass-market consumers un-served,”
  • Nigel Waterson MP when Shadow pensions minister: “While no-one can object to raising the standards of training and competence, should an emphasis on exams take precedence over on-the-job training and experience?

Fines are at record highs for the same bad behaviour from the same suspects, regulatory costs are at an all time high, huge FSCS levies continue to hit ‘small businesses’ when least expected, politicians have no control of those they leglislate to regulate, those employed in financial services regulation have increased, those employed in the financial services sector they regulate have decreased.

The problem with regulation in 2016 is that you cannot regulate for lack of common sense, yet that is what we keep trying to do. Caveat emptor has gone.

We have lost the use of that in-built gene of common sense when looking at constructing and applying regulation.. Its loss went along with map reading skills, crossing the road after looking both ways, not talking to strangers, proficient cycling, spelling ability, simple mental arithmetic skills and very many more.

The world has truly gone mad, or at least it has in UKplc’s regulation section.

We have a society that is now readily and speedily offended on somebody else part for just about everything that simply should not matter as much as it does.

We have borders that are not fit for purpose, we have an NHS in meltdown because the service is now aspiration and expectation based, rather than focusing on the basics of it’s original 1948 founding principles (comprehensiveness, within available resources) and a country controlled not by UK based elected politicians but by unelected civil servants, quangos, eurocrats and regulators.

To top that we now have ‘Brexit’.

To borrow that famous Bob Monkhouse quote “ When I said that the proposed RDR regulation would not work, everybody laughed. Well they’re not laughing now.

 

www.panaceaadviser.com

Panacea Adviser survey: 89% of advisers say Robo-Advice is a threat to the industry

Almost nine out of ten financial advisers warn that automated services pose a threat to traditional face-to-face financial advice, research by Panacea Adviser has revealed.

In a survey asking 118 financial advisers whether robo-advice presented a threat or opportunity for face-to-face advice, only 11 per cent described it as a positive for their industry while the vast majority raised concerns that robo-advice could prove damaging to traditional financial advice.

Commenting on the results of the research, Panacea Adviser Chief Executive Derek Bradley, said: “With the amount of attention and industry debate sparked by robo-advice, it is perhaps not so surprising to see such a strong reaction from advisers towards the ‘rise of the robos’. The current mood appears more unusual, however, when you consider that automated services still represent a relatively small market here in the UK while the technology itself is also fairly limited at this stage.

“The US market also offers a glimpse of what looks like a more positive outlook for advisers when it comes to robo-advice. The ability to combine elements of both human and automated advice is actually seeing many traditional advice firms in the US prove more popular than robo-advice models that rely solely on technology.”

ADVISER VIEWS ON ROBO-ADVICE

The research also gathered adviser opinion on both sides of the debate, highlighting some of the key challenges – and benefits – that automated models can bring for advice firms.

Pete Matthew, Managing Director for Jacksons Wealth Management, believes marketing could prove the biggest hurdle for firms looking to adopt robo-advice. He said: “An online service can provide a way of perhaps serving ‘lower value’ clients in the short-term so that they engage with the adviser’s brand, which may well lead to higher-ticket business in the future.

“But while the technology behind robo-advice actually appears to be straightforward enough, the real issue is that most advisers are clueless when it comes to marketing. The world of marketing has changed immeasurably. Now, it is all about providing value to the prospect by educating, entertaining and inspiring clients to take action. The social aspect should not be underestimated either. Increasingly people buy based on the recommendations of social media circles and unless advisers are influencing within these channels, no-one will show up to their fancy robo-advice websites.”

 Alan Hughes, Partner at Foot Anstey LLP, also calls for the FCA to clarify what constitutes ‘advice’ and ‘guidance’ in relation to automated-models. He said: “As robo-advice develops, advisers need to consider carefully how it impacts on the market, what that means for their own business and clients and how they can use this as an opportunity. Robo-advice will never completely replace face-to-face advice but it is a case of “ignore at your peril”.

“Going forward, any further clarity that can be provided on the difference between advice and guidance will be very useful in bringing automated models to market. The FCA should explicitly address these issues and be proactive, rather than just tweaking the regulatory framework and then telling firms that they need to go off and reach their own view.”

Focusing on the regulation of automated services, Derek Bradley added: “A vital UK consideration that would assist in the adoption of robo-advice models is that the FCA approves the technology and their complicated algorithms. Some time taken now could mean that the constant retro aspect of regulation against products or advice is removed and public confidence in a ‘fit to fly’ model will see a greater, quicker embrace by advisers and of course the public.”

 

www.panaceaadviser.com 

What is the point of fines on corporate bodies

What is the point of fines on corporate bodies

Some time for some focus and an application of common sense and fair play?

“Second World War veteran Major James Fyfe, who signed up aged 17 and fought at Dunkirk, fell of a trolley at Royal Berkshire Hospital and broke his neck in March 2011”.

The ‘learnings’ or ‘outcomes’ (yes those regu-words again that are always used when things corporate or governmental go wrong) in this very tragic state of 2011 affairs is that Graham Sims, the boss of Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust admitted a charge of “breach of an employer of general duty, other than to an employee, relating to the failure to properly secure the hospital bed.”

This is yet another example of a fine meaning nothing at all. Just like banking fines. As Billy Bennett’s song goes It’s the rich what gets the pleasure”!

What is the point of fines on corporate bodies? They mean nothing at all. And even worse, the victims of their blunders see it means nothing.

James Ageros, the NHS trust’s QC said: ‘at the heart of this there is a human tragedy and the Trust apologises and sends its condolences where there was the death of their father in unfit circumstances”.

In this case the trolley that was ‘blamed’ for the sorry mess was “corroded in places and key mechanisms, including a spring inside the side bars, were missing”.

Nobody is held responsible on a meaningful personal level anymore for the errors that cause death, distress, or in the case of banks, financial loss. So that’s all right then?

A £200k fine? Extraordinarily time to pay was asked for by a man whose salary is most likely heading toward £300k- over 4 years was granted. Let’s move on, get over yourselves?

But somebody was responsible for this terrible outcome, ultimately it was the ‘Trust’ but the real blame lies much further down the chain of command. This equipment was in use all day, every day. Was it maintenance, very possibly? Was it the hospital staff that put him on the trolley, surely they must have noticed that the sidebars would not lock?

What is for sure is that it must be someone.

If this were a small business, let’s just say a small IFA business, rather than a corporate body a very different ‘outcome’ would have been seen. Somebody would be rightly identified as individually responsible, substantial compensation, not a fine, paid to the victim or their family by way of the business owners, possibly by their public liability or business insurance and without doubt the business owner would have been prosecuted, maybe even jailed and the business even closed down.

Why is it that corporate responsibility seems to override individual responsibility? Fines should go toward redress for the victims of failure and under no circumstances should HM Treasury treat them as a windfall tax as is currently the case with banking fines.

Perhaps there has come a time that workers in large corporate bodies, banks for example, are equally financially liable in cases like this.

 

Just a thought?