We don’t need no stinking badges. Oh yes you do, now

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

23 May 2019

We don’t need no stinking badges. Oh yes you do, now

CMC’s are about to have some insights into what regulatory reality should be about.

The word from ‘Endeavour Square is that “We will be out, and we are starting to think which firms we’re going to visit in the next days and weeks.”.

Many will be aware of all the work done since July 2012 with the MoJ’s Kevin Roussell by Alan Lakey and I to root out this scourge. Sadly for Kevin he died just before his work went live.

To assist the FCA with their thinking we have set up a ‘whistle-blower’ form so that the hundreds of advisers who have been on the receiving end of some appalling behaviour can assist the FCA in the search for ‘bad actors’ as they transition from regulatory fantasy to regulatory reality.

In particular we will expect them to look at those firms where there is a consistency of badness. If any of you have taken them to court to recover costs do note this.

The form is short, but we would expect you to give some comments that can cite specific case names and dates. We would appreciate your name, but this will be redacted from the submission to the FCA.

You only need to complete the fields with * next to them but it would help us if you include your personal details should we have any queries. Please be assured that your submission will be kept confidential and we will not share your contact details with anyone in relation to this matter.

Name:
Company:
Email:
PPI Claims Management Company*
PPI CMC Web Address*:
Comments/Details:
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A fourth way to fund regulation?

Regulatory update for Financial Advisers & Paraplanners

22 Jan 2019

A fourth way to fund regulation?

First of all Panacea followers, this is our 1,000th Bento. Given this landmark status, I felt that it should contain something special, and with that in mind, I would like to make a heartfelt suggestion or two about how the regulation and protections in the financial services industry could be re-engineered, for in regulatory parlance, better regulated firm and consumer outcomes.

This is quite long, but it needs to be to articulate conceptual thinking that can be taken forward and developed.

In a scene from ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’, the great Gordon Gekko defines financial services moral hazard as “when they take your money and then are not responsible for what they do with it”.

But being responsible is what the financial industry should be about, we have reached a stage that the responsibility should fall on all as the few who mess it up never have the resource to put things right.

There is an urgent need to find a better way to fund the cost of delivering confidence and developing consumer protection. At its core, the funding the seemingly endless liabilities for consumer compensation regarding ‘inappropriate (bad) or unsuitable advice’ and/or failure of product.

If not found, the only way to even think about evaluating the worth, let alone seeking access to advice, will become so expensive only the very rich will be able to seek it out and the entry of new firms impossible.

That in turn creates further problems to those provider firms who rely almost totally on intermediated distribution.

A leading provider CEO observed only this week that: The truth is that we currently have a mixed economy in terms of compensation for mis-selling, product flaws, etc. Individual firms have primary liability for their actions and the wider FS industry carries the costs of systemic regulation and systemic failures (FSCS). Whilst everyone grumbles about this it is pretty sensible. Firms have real incentive to ensure that their activities are meeting standards, but the overall system has a backstop to maintain public confidence”. 

He is quite right, but how regulation and consumer protection are funded is what I see as the problem and not the responsibility focus where the ‘who pays’ door has slammed shut.

The problem:

Currently regulation and the compensation culture based on consumer expectations, fraud, advice failure and entitlements has presented the financial services industry as a harvesting opportunity for limitless cash calls from lawyers and consumers, who some may argue, should take some responsibility for their own actions and not always expect the financial services industry to compensate for circumstances that were quite possibly of their own making or not the intent of the advice channel at the time of giving the advice.

Financial products are predominately ‘purchased’ as a result of adviser recommendation, this can now include sales attached to products such car purchase. This distribution of intangible products is often referred to as intermediated distribution. The latter outlets, although regulated, are rewarded by way of commissions.

Pretty much all life, pension, protection and investment product providers do not sell or distribute what they design and build and have not for decades. Instead they rely on third parties. That party is the adviser community, tied, restricted or whole of market. That distribution method became predominantly fee based on 31st December 2012, excluding protection products and mortgage related advice.

Many argued that this date spelt the end of mass market access to financial advice and the beginning of a more professional era where if you could not pay, or were not deemed financially worthy, customer segmentation by advisers ensured advice was not coming your way any time soon, or at all.

However, it seems that when the adviser advice, rather than what was previously known as a sales process, all goes wrong, a derivation of Billy Bennet’s thirties music hall ditty seems to apply. Something along the lines of “it’s the rich what has the pleasure and the poor that gets the blame”.

In this case read IFA for ‘the poor’ as the blame always falls at the advice door.

And in some cases that blame may be correctly placed but irrespective of that, IFA firms are not always financially well-resourced to compensate. This simple fact is the cause of the big problem the FSCS, PI insurers and firms left who pick up the cost of the clear up face.

Poorly, yet still compliantly capital adequate firms often collapse after a big call of money from the FSCS or even a single successful complaint and unaffordable compensation payments.

The regulatory year 2018/19 with just over 3 months to go, has seen the FOS refer 273 cases from around 74 companies to the FSCS. For these firms, Sipps accounted for 39% of FOS casework, PPI 28% and portfolio management 9%. This in turn will see more complaints against those firms hit the FSCS as the FOS will wash their hands of them as they will be placed in default.

Smaller IFA firms often do not use limited liability protection options, instead using their personal assets to satisfy capital adequacy. For many established firms adequate capital adequacy and affordable, operationally functional PI to ride out a bad advice claim award is difficult to get because of a very restricted pool of insurers and a continuing slew of claims for unregulated products being distributed by regulated entities.

Limited liability protection actually increases the risk of firms failing.

As PI cover is arranged a year at a time, any claim or notification of a claim in the current policy year, with a diminishing pool of reinsurers and huge premiums, could be curtains at renewal in the next year, no PI = no business.

Although there are always exceptions in commercial life, very, very few businesses set out to disadvantage clients for their own gain. It seems in today’s world of financial services that the collapse of firms can often be brought about because of a failure to get compliant PI, a big (even small) FOS redress order, or a flood of unexpected FSCS calls for cash from the misdemeanours of others. This in turn sees reducing adviser numbers that in turn presents fewer firms to pay ever increasing liabilities of others as they fail.

All this is really not helped by a consumer perception, as noted above, that all financial products and advice present an opportunity for a ‘refund’ many years later if what was suitable at the time of the advice is not seen that way, say, 15 years later due to changed client circumstances, changes in their aims and aspirations that applied at the time of advice.

Why? Very simply because there is no longstop, something that applies in just about every commercial walk of life. After six complete years from the date of the transaction there is no redress for bad service, goods or advice as commercial law does not permit it. In the world of financial services, it is forever, although I note that the FOS is now exercising the six years plus three rule a bit more.

In the summer of 2018, Panacea ran a FOS survey whereby 83% of respondents felt that FOS complaints process places them in an automatic position of guilty until proven innocent. The outcome should be determined by the evidence available and/ or the balance of probability. Often, that is not seen by firms as being the case. No file, because the case was more than say seven years in the past, does not help. Equally so if a file is retained, data protection could come back to bite as record keeping beyond seven years could be seen as a breach.

It is all well and good suggesting that the polluter pays from a compensation point of view, but the reality is they cannot because the pollution has proved so toxic, they just died along with everything else in that murky pond. In other words, the death of the polluter means they can never pay.

Now to go off piste, bear with me…

In 1970, I started working in the Lloyds marine re-insurance market. My ‘learning’s’ area of expertise was around reinsurance and claims, very specifically the ‘Torrey Canyon disaster’ of March 1967, the claims were still being worked on three years later.

As any insurer will tell you, you need to spread the risk base you hold, advisers take note. To do that you need to reinsure to protect yourself as a ‘name’ and your business. This is common place with life assurance products.

For those who do may not know, back in the ‘60s and 70’s Lloyds syndicates (the collective of insurers) operated in what was at the time the biggest open space room in the world opposite the current Lime Street current location.

Their individual ‘office space’ was referred to as a ‘booth’ paying homage to the coffee shop heritage that started Edward Lloyds concept in 1686. Each booth contained specialist syndicate underwriters who took a view on a risk, like Torrey Canyon, and signed up to insure it. No computers, just a piece of paper and in many cases a quill. The back office was another world of paper, comptometers, typists, and clerks but it all worked.

The super tanker SS Torrey Canyon hit rocks off the coast of Cornwall.

What was different about Torrey Canyon was the scale. The ship, one of the new generation of tankers, had been lengthened with the insertion of a new, larger mid-section. She was carrying, on a single voyage charter, nearly 120,000 tons of crude oil from Kuwait to Milford Haven in South Wales. Being deeply laden, she had to catch the late evening tide for berthing. To save half an hour and avoid a wait of five days, the Italian master took a route to the east instead of the west of the Scillies.

Those Italian captains eh, where has that happened since?

When the tanker struck the Pollard Rock, thousands of gallons of crude oil, a filthy chocolate-coloured mess, started spilling from her ruptured tanks. Detergent was sprayed continuously to disperse the slick, but it was like trying to hold back a tide that Canute would never even think possible.

Eventually the RAF and Royal Navy bombed it, using it as target practice. The idea was to burn the wreck and oil, still on the surface, as a final solution.

But beaches were left knee-deep in sludge and thousands of sea birds were killed in what remains the UK’s worst environmental accident and the minimal quantifiable cost, in other word insurance claim, was £14.24m, in today’s terms that would be some £249m. The losses were incurred on the hull, the cargo and the consequential losses a disaster can cause.

This massive claim threatened to put some Lloyds syndicates out of business as Lloyds always paid claims. If an individual Lloyds syndicate member, (a ‘name’),’ could not pay, their personal worth along with all those others who invested in the risk carrying syndicates were expected to pay. If you could not, your business was at severe, terminally and very legally seizable risk as were your personal assets and wealth, and all in cash.

Unlike IFAs their risk continued, a bit like PI today, for a specified policy period and a specified amount.

Matters were made worse because of a quirk in the risk assumption management and its spread.

Most syndicates would reinsure (spread) the risk on big bits of kit, like a tanker. A spread of risk with others who were not directly involved in insuring the vessel. But the complexity and size of the risk and the claim meant that reinsuring saw the risk spread back to the original insurer syndicates with the reinsurers reinsuring their risk.

Reminds me a bit of the 07/08 financial crisis, securitisation of mortgage debt bundles but not knowing what was in the bundle you brought. Reinsurance could be many layers deep.

As a disaster comparison in 2010 following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, insurers, Lloyd’s paid out over $600m.

So how does this connect with the problem?

Some thoughts for the FCA and HM Treasury.

Every regulated firm, there are some 50,000, of whatever type (from car finance, to pet insurance, to funeral plans, pensions providers, life insurers etc) should pay a simple percentage of turnover to the FCA each year as a new type of ‘all inclusive’ regulatory fee to cover ALL the cost of delivering regulation, FCA, FOS but not the FSCS as this idea would see their need removed, building, quickly, a financial services fund to pay for when things go wrong (similar to the Pension Protection Fund?).

The complete opposite of the polluter pays and in complete harmony with the Lloyds ethos of spreading the risk.

This clearly defined cash ocean is locked, and if need be in the beginning underwritten by the Treasury, rather like the FSCS is today.

It should not see HM Treasury doing a cash grab on surplus funds as it has done with fines. Build up surplus, rather like the three-year Lloyds accounting period before profits are realised and use that surplus to reduce the cost of regulation with fee and fine offsets.

This pool of cash would be to specifically deal with investigating consumer detriment for regulated products and advice only. Claims could only be arbitrated at minimal cost to either side by the FOS with the outcome being determined by the FOS with a low-cost form of independent appeal for each party.

The FOS should operate by assessing claims on the six years plus three rule, the basis of evidence available and/or the balance of probability and not by way of retrospection.

In the case of ‘guilt’ there should be an element of affordable excess and redress payable by the firm, again set as a percentage of turnover. This should mean that firms do not go out of business because of a claim or a claim against others.

There should be a very strict bad behaviour ‘two strikes and you are out’ standard or where redress amounts are above a certain level and you are out ruled out of further activities, possibly even first time.

Regulated advisers should only engage in regulated products.

There would be no need for individual PI as the FCA should/ could, rather like huge corporates, self-insure by way of the fund created and in the event of a ‘Torrey Canyon’ the FCA could have in place a reinsurance pool made up of many insurers, PI or otherwise to remove any doubts of being selected against.

Tear up the current protocols, the status quo needs something a bit different.

Let’s do a little maths:

  • In 2017 £22.1 billion of revenue was earned by retail intermediary firms in 2017 from insurance, investment and mortgage mediation activities, compared to £20 billion in 2016. Source FCA
  • Over £300 million was paid by firms in Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) premiums in 2017, Source FCA
  • The FSCS paid in claims to the year ended March 2017 £375,262,000 (£130,362,000 was recovered) source FSCS Financial review page 47
  • The biggest single cost to the FSCS in that year was £306,246 in interest source FSCS Financial review page 47
  • There are some 50,000 firms across many business areas that are registered with and regulated by the FCA

So, if every firm regulated by the FCA paid 0.20% of their turnover each year, based on the above numbers some £442m would initially be raised. There would be no need for PI cost and a sum could be set aside to reinsure easily covered within that 0.2% cost.

This thinking is not about presenting firms with a low-cost way to be reckless in their advice, it is not about bringing advice to the masses in its purest sense. But it is a starting point?

As the leading provider CEO further noted: Your suggested approach will only affect advisory firm behaviour materially if it leads to greater socialisation of all of the risks across the sector, and so reduces risk of ruin for advice firms.

The description of my thoughts as “socialisation” is very astute.

He did add a caveat that “this in turn runs the risk of too many firms taking higher risks because they don’t have to bear the brunt of their actions to the extent that they do today”.

But I beg to differ. Money is being made in the ‘industry of compensation’ that would be better used by ploughing it back to the pot, confidence would be restored, bad business put out of action very quickly and all that money saved on a firm level basis put to providing lower cost, easier access to advice, better regulated products and services created with foresight to ultimately benefit the consumer rather than hindsight to compensate them.

I hope that this very brief summary could be the basis of a new way to deal with compensation.

Just a thought.

FCA suggests clear out of sales dinosaurs

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

29 Oct 2018

FCA suggests clear out of sales dinosaurs

FCA suggests clear out of sales dinosaurs

Arthur’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”?  

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

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????

Is it all still ‘Pete Tong’ at the FOS in 2018?

Since 2011 we have been conducting research via a simple survey to gauge what advisers think about service levels and standards delivered by the FOS, in particular looking at their processes and the fairness of the system.

The first survey ran in 2011, then 2014 and finally, our last was in 2016, with the same questions.

A particularly disturbing trend was the increase of firms who had experienced false or manufactured accusations from complainants in an attempt to gain compensation, which went up from an already large 64% in 2011 to 74% in 2014.  

2016 continued to show a consistent negativity of experience.

So, what does 2018 look like?

Another two years have passed, and we want to know, will 2018 see any improvement on the:

  • 71% of advisers that felt FOS adjudications are unfair?
  • 69% of advisers that felt adjudicators help create complaints where no complaint existed?
  • 85% of advisers that felt FOS rules place an adviser or firm in a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ position from outset?

FOS Review

Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ itself tackled the FOS earlier this year, painting a rather bleak picture of operations. As a result of the programme, FOS Boss Caroline Wayman has launched a review so it could “better understand and address the concerns” raised by Dispatches. This will be reported to Parliament shortly before summer recess.

Hopefully our survey, which will be shared with the FOS and Nicky Morgan (Chair of the TSC), will prove timely, and for Ms. Wayman provide a view of the FOS from an adviser perspective. And the industry itself can ponder if things have got better or not since 2011, 2014 and 2016.

Please complete the anonymous, 5-minute survey below and share it with your colleagues.

Your input is important, vital and greatly appreciated.

Will GDPR destroy businesses?

Will GDPR destroy businesses?

The date is upon us.

GDPR was a cunning plan thought up by the EU. Europe’s data protection laws have long been regarded as a gold standard all over the world. But over the last 25 years, technology has transformed our lives in ways nobody could have imagined so a review of the rules was needed.

In 2016, the EU adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), one of its greatest achievements, they say. It replaces the1995 Data Protection Directive which was adopted at a time when the internet was in its infancy.

The GDPR will be recognised as law across all the EU member states today, the 25thMay 2018.

But will it actually see the destruction of many businesses. Mailing lists and research data built up over years may be rendered useless if those businesses do not have consent to keep in touch or hold that data?

Companies are worried about the impact non-compliance could have, many fear that negative media or social coverage could cause their organisation to lose customers and they are very concerned that their brand image, built up over very many years, would be de-valued as a result of negative coverage.

Although this is an EU directive, it also affects businesses globally who interact with European customers seeing some applying blocks for their customers in the UK and Europe. American news websites including the New York Daily News and Los Angeles Times are among those which have temporarily shut down in Europe along with many others who sell goods online to the UK & Europe.

The privacy of the individual is hugely important, especially when set against the intrusions of governments. GDPR is potentially putting the brakes on innovation and risks punishing companies for situations beyond their control.

There are some ironies too. The EU wants to give individuals unfettered access to the data that companies store about them. Yet the EU is not transparent about its own operations, including the voting records of MEPs and the lobbyists who try and shape EU policy in their favour.

GDPR takes little notice of how data is a vital raw material of product and business innovation. It is likely to stifle data-driven innovation as well as helping to reduce operational costs.

Rather like a lot of regulation in the UK, learnings only come when it is way too late. In this case let us hope that businesses, especially smaller businesses can survive the impact of GDPR, both seen and unforeseen.

As a footnote, this is the most perfect opportunity for scammers to use GDPR as a way of getting you to click on a link in a phishing e-mail that you shoud not. DO NOT click on any e mails where you do not recognise the sender or the address it purports to come from.