What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want

3 Feb 2017

What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want

I have borrowed for inspiration from a quote from Mignon McLaughlin who wrote ‘The Neurotic’s Notebook 1960’ as I think it sums up very well where we are in the UK right now both in a society sense and a financial services sense.

I am a baby boomer and not a day passes with a moment of stark reality hitting me full on around the perception of millennials that society is failing them.

Where shall I start?

Well being born in 1951, I have seen quite a lot. Not as much as some but more than most around lifestyle changes and aspirations from the ‘50’s and ’60’s through until today.

In the post war era that I grew up in, the idea of family, friends and neighbours being victims of poverty, exposed to dangers various at every turn just did not exist.

The Thames froze. We had terrible smogs caused by coal fires, houses did not have central heating or double-glazing, toilets were outside the house, Bronco was the paper of choice. We would wake up from a duvet-less sleep in a house with windows frozen on the inside as well as the outside and after being given breakfast it was off to school, with school friends living nearby on foot.

We played in the street, unthreatened. we knew our neighbours, burger alarms were only found on banks.

Buses and trams represented the public transport offering. Milk was delivered by horse and cart, supermarkets did not exist, and food was rationed until 1954.

Homes that had a telephone would often share the line with someone else. And black and white televisions were tiny and for the rich.

Police were on the ‘beat’ walking the streets with clean white shirts and a very big hat, the Fire Brigade actually put out fires and ambulances took people (who actually needed to be there) to a clean and very efficient hospital casualty (not A&E) department. The call for emergency help was often made on a shared phone line or by your family doctor, not a GP, if they could not help.

If you were unemployed, you went to your local ‘Labour Exchange’ and got very little money to help in times of hardship. The credit card did not exist.

And as for financial advice, the ‘Man from the Pru’ was the ‘come to you’ solution. If you were a person of substance, your bank manager would assist, resplendent in attire and tattoo free.

Sixty five years on is this the time for a pause to reflect on whether life is better or worse in 2017 than it was in the 1950’s?

88% of Advisers would not use an outsourced Paraplanner

Nearly nine out of ten advisers say they prefer to employ a full-time paraplanner as part of their in-house team instead of turning to an outsourced paraplanner, exclusive research from Panacea Adviser has revealed.

The survey of just under 90 advisers asked if advisers consider outsourced paraplanning an attractive option for their firm, to which 88% responded to the contrary that they currently favour having a paraplanner on board as a permanent member of their in-house team.

Less than 1% of advisers surveyed said they would consider outsourcing paraplanning in the future.

We believe that the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) expedited the already expanding nature of the Paraplanner’s role and made them a ‘must have’ resource for many smaller advice firms looking to maximise their earning potential.

Against this backdrop, we might have expected to see a sharp uptake in demand for both in-house and external resources, something which makes the lack of popularity surrounding outsourced paraplanners in our latest survey a somewhat surprising result. However, in our opinion, this does not suggest that outsourced paraplanners somehow have less to offer than their in-house counterparts, they just need to do more to shout about the time saving and other benefits that outsourcing can bring to adviser firms.”

INDUSTRY VIEWS ON PARAPLANNING

The research also gathered opinions of both paraplanners and advisers, highlighting some of the key challenges – and benefits – that using this type of external resource can bring for advice firms.

Nathan Fryer, Director of outsourced paraplanning firm, Plan Works, said:

“I can fully understand why advisers would be apprehensive about outsourcing work of this nature to a third party. In many ways if I were advising myself, and could afford it, I would most likely look to employ a full-time paraplanner too. After all, inviting a stranger into what is quite often an adviser’s “life work” can be bewildering. 

“It’s this that makes communication so key when it comes to outsourcing, explaining why many outsourced paraplanners actually offer a bedding in period for the two parties to get to know one another and identify how they can work together.

While it is also true that having someone in-house can assist with other tasks such as admin and marketing, paraplanners are actually becoming increasingly few and far between, which means that salaries are also being pushed higher and higher.” 

Morwenna Clarke, CFP from Portland Wealth Management, also commented:

“We actually have a successful outsourcing relationship with a paraplanner at present but, in the past, we have come across issues around data protection when outsourcing.

“It seems that some outsourced paraplanners contracts don’t cover the legal issues around protecting and storing customer data, which could potentially see the adviser breach certain European laws. Another issue that may deter some advisers from turning to an external paraplanner is the changing definition of what constitutes a ‘worker’ under UK law, which may make it difficult to work with an outsourced paraplanner.”

As with every element of your business, it is important to ensure when working with a third party that the proper data protection licences are in place and that advisers work closely with their outsourced paraplanners to identify secure ways of communicating and storing data. This should help overcome some concerns that advisers have around using outsourced paraplanners.

Panacea Adviser provides opportunities for advisers and outsourced paraplanners to connect via its Paraplanner Directory and at no cost.  Here, outsourced paraplanners are able to include business details and links to their own website – allowing them direct access to Panacea’s 19,000 strong community.

For more information on the Paraplanner directory please click here. 

Save our NHS, but how?

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

5 Dec 2016

Save our NHS, but how?

I had a very interesting discussion over the weekend with a Labour party activist, campaigning under a specially erected party tent in the centre of my hometown, Wokingham.

I was asked if I would sign a petition to support more funding for the NHS and a very interesting discussion ensued.

The female activist was a bit younger than me and was a teacher. She was passionate about the NHS and was of the view that the NHS needed so much more money.

I agree, but having seen in my 65 years how the NHS has evolved, something, in fact most things with the NHS and its management and funding is seriously broken.

The NHS was launched on July 5th 1948 by the then Labour health minister Aneurin Bevan It was based on three core principles:

  • that it meet the needs of everyone
  • that it be free at the point of delivery
  • that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

Please note these, and especially those words in the last one around clinical need and the ability to pay.

To most a visit to your GP, a ride in an ambulance to A&E and the ensuing care after an accident or sudden serious illness are rightly considered to be FOC, funded by our taxes.

But we live in a very different world to that of 1948. Health service provisions are more sophisticated, peoples health needs have become very jentitlement based indeed and as a result are far more expensive.

For example, in 1948, the following were not available treatments on the NHS:

  • Heart and lung transplants
  • Liver and kidney transplants
  • Gender re-assignment
  • IVF
  • Womb transplants
  • Breast enhancement and reduction
  • Tattoo removal
  • Critical illness busting treatments such as cancer
  • HIV prevention
  • Intelligent prosthetics

Whilst many in the UK would cling to the 1948 core principles, the fiscal fuel for delivery of healthcare requires a charging rethink, especially as so much of the NHS service delivery in 2016 is driven more by a clinical want than a clinical need.

Not everything is free anymore in the NHS. With some exceptions we pay for dental care starting at £19.70 prescriptions starting at £8.40 and eye care, excluding contact lenses.

Surely the time has come to apply notional charges for GP visits and non-emergency NHS services that are not currently subject to charges in line with the dental model.

But will politicians be brave enough to change the funding model from all taxation to an element of pay on delivery?

Just a thought

FSCS levy and some blue sky thinking

Regulation comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

31 Oct 2016

FSCS levy and some blue sky thinking.

We hear that the new chief executive, Andrew Bailey, has confirmed the introduction of a product levy will be considered as part of the regulator’s upcoming consultation on the funding of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

The time is right for Mr. Bailey to also consider (alongside this very sensible idea that always seems to get ‘kicked’ into the long grass) the use, or in reality, the miss use of banking fines in this consultation?

FCA fines were to be used to offset the cost of regulation. But not any more.

Why, well here’s the thing as they say.

Over the last century or two the nations wealth and success was built on our vast below ground natural resources.

Coal, tin, oil, sand, cement, gravel extraction have all played their part but many fear that these resources have a limited life as dwindling stocks make it more expensive to recover.

Alongside all natural resources there is a tax raising opportunity but if stocks of natural resource reduce or become exhausted this will, in turn, see tax revenues reduce and that spells trouble for HM Treasury.

But the nation has turned to another ‘natural resource’ because of some very clever HM Treasury ‘fine-fracking’ on the part of the last government

This table contains the FCA’s own information about fines published during the calendar year ending 2016 and up to the 12th October.

The total amount of fines levied so far in 2016 is £22,127,442.

  • In 2015 £905,219,078 was levied
  • And in 2014 £1,471,431,800 was levied.

The FCA will deduct its costs from these huge amounts and the rest will go to HM Treasury. The FCA was obliged by statute to pay away £1.370bn of the 2014 fines to the Treasury, the equivalent of 70% of all alcohol and tobacco levies for 2014.

In April this year the FSCS announced a £337m levy for 2016/17.

The FSCS levy in 2015/16 totaled £319m.

So over the last 3 years some £2.4bn in fines has been levied that could have seen zero FSCS levy for a good number of years with the polluter paying. Just do the math!

Banking fines should be used to reduce the burden of regulatory cost, in particular that of the ‘oh so’ contentious FSCS levy that hits, in particular, small IFA businesses the hardest.

Any thoughts yourself?

Do let us know here via our quick survey, details will be shared with Mr. Bailey.

Happy 30th birthday Big Bang

Regulatory comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

26 Oct 2016

Happy 30th birthday Big Bang

It was the great Gordon Gekko who said, “Moral hazard is when they take your money and then are not responsible for what they do with it.”

With these words of wisdom, I felt it might be time to reflect upon the fact that 30 years ago, on 27 October 1986, the closeted clubby world of the City was subject to a positive tsunami of changes that today, for those of us old enough to remember it, was called the “Big Bang”.

I was working in the City at the time and the financial services world, as we knew it changed forever from that date. The late starts, long lunches, early finishes were no longer fashionable, everybody started dressing like Mr. Gekko, huge mobile phones were ‘hand borne’ not hand held, the colourful LIFFE boys would strut their stuff around the Royal Exchange between trades and generally life seemed to have a very particular and agreeable buzz.

Over the past 30 years what was once a rather staid gene pool of public school chums in pin stripes, a veritable gentleman’s club of friends and relatives, had morphed into a US-stylisation of business practices.

With it came the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the City all linked with the considerable diversity introduced by foreign banks as plus points, but, the downside was that it came with a certain killer instinct that would mean even your friends and colleagues were not guaranteed a particular benefit without a cost attaching.

But in the post big bang world, as Mr. Gekko would say, “if you need a friend, get a dog”.

Regulation and financial services have not always been easy bedfellows yet upon reflection the world did seem a nicer, gentler place in many ways in the years building up to that 1986 Big Bang.

Social media did not exist then. What led to Big Bang was that the London Stock Exchange was coming close to, if not actually being found out without the enhancements of Google searches.

The stock market was really an almost regulation free (when compared to today) cartel, fixing commissions and linking this with trading floor admission complexities that would do the Royal & Ancient some credit.

It was a posh, gentlemen’s club version of the old London markets of Smithfield or Billingsgate- but with manners.

We saw a closed shop for the benefit of brokers and stock-jobbers all safely contained in their pin striped, bowler-hatted bunker which in the coming brave new world of class and professional barrier deconstruction would not be seen as acceptable any more.

Margaret Thatcher had been in power for some 7 years and the Thatcher vision of wealth creation by way of the state selling the public something they already owned was underway.

She was warned pre big bang, that this vision would lead to a new culture of ‘unscrupulous practices in the City‘, according to a release of government papers in 2014.

Her Cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong said that a ‘bubble’ was being created that would be pricked” and “that corners were being cut and money made in ways that are at least bordering on the unscrupulous”.

But despite the warning, we still “Told Sid” and the nation rode a gravy train of expectation with flotations of once staid mutual institutions like the Halifax and Abbey National building societies- yes, remember them?

The merchant banks were in gorge mode on these flotations. SG Warburg, Schroders, NM Rothschild, Samuel Montagu, Hill Samuel and Morgan Grenfell were there doing it “very large”.

US investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Salomon Brothers (remember them too?) were also keen on some action but leading up to Big Bang it was not too easy for them to get into the club.

But change was on its way, the days of fixed commissions and closed shops were being replaced by the need to be competitive.

The City was no longer a place for “Gentlemen and Players.”

It was becoming a world of young and thrusting ‘spiv’ market traders who had literally switched venue, being recruited from the perceived ‘low rent’ market environs of Petticoat Lane, Billingsgate, Smithfield and Covent Garden.

And those guys brought their trading skills and “Loadsamoney” culture to the previously hallowed ground of the City and the Stock Exchange.

But now they worked, shouting in trading ‘Pits” or shouting at banks of computer screens waiting for that big deal, greeting it with more shouting and of course the resulting huge bonus moment.

The big success story of Big Bang was Warburg’s swallowing up of Ackroyd and Smithers, Rowe & Pitman and Mullens & Co who in turn were swallowed whole by UBS, then UBS/Phillips & Drew/Swiss Bank empire.

In the feeding frenzy Barclays paid huge money indeed for Wedd, Durlacher and de Zoete and Bevan, Deutsche Bank ate up Morgan Grenfell, Midland Bank (who are they) bought W Greenwell and this then got digested by HSBC. Kleinwort Benson bought Grieveson Grant, and NM Rothschild, Smith Brothers.

And what of the “Gentlemen and Players”?

Well they all retired to their stockbroker belt houses and country estates swapping pin stripe for tweeds, having “trousered” some very serious money.

With this sea change we saw the disappearance of those traditional and cautious values, my word is my bond, trust, nods, winks and tips were all to be replaced by what is now seen in many quarters as a reckless abandon, using somebody else’s money to trade on your own account for the benefit of the Banks who employed you and more importantly yourself.

If it all went wrong, the bank carried the losses until, as we saw with the spectacular 2007 banking collapse, the taxpayer did if nobody else seemed interested.

So when the indigestion disappeared from this bout of Mr. Creosote like fiscal gluttony, was Big Bang a success, was big beautiful?

Sir Robert Armstrong had the correct vision and Gordon Gekko I think has proved to be the master philosopher. The banks, post big bang, did take our money and were not responsible for what they did with it.

The largest banking fine in history levied this year has shown only too clearly that for rogue traders, in Gekko speak, “there is a very big difference between rehabilitation and repentance” and as far as casino banking and regulation is concerned, there is some way to go on both counts.

This would never have happened in the world of ‘Gentlemen and Players’?

Just a thought.

 

FSCS and the release of data, your data

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

24 Oct 2016

FSCS and the release of data, your data

Advisers may be concerned to know about the continued, contentious handling of personal data by the FSCS where claims are received.

In particular where the adviser has retired and the firm in question was NOT in default of the scheme some 20 years later.

With regulators looking at personal responsibility from company directors, in the words of Hector Sants, all advisers should be very afraid, and to the grave it would seem?

When a ‘consumer’ approaches the FSCS (looking to claim compensation) as the firm from whom advice was obtained is no longer trading and not in default (as the adviser has retired) the FSCS, if requested by the ‘consumer’, is releasing information as to the whereabouts of that now retired adviser, whether or not the adviser has consented to that release.

In correspondence seen, the FSCS is stating that it has the right to release such data when requested; quoting guidance it says it has from the Information Commissioners office (ICO).

This states, “ Where the FSCS has rejected a claim for solvency reasons (firm not in default) and the consumer wishes to pursue a claim, disclosure is permitted under the Data Protection Act 1998.

They go on to refer to the fact that they have received guidance from the ICO to that effect- providing this summary. 

Now here is the situation, and advisers should rightly be very concerned as this could happen to anyone and illustrates only too well the need for a longstop.

The date of the advice being claimed against (relating in this case to affordability surrounding a mortgage protection policy with CI) was in 1997, almost 20 years ago.

If the firm was in default and the FSCS did accept such a complaint, it would be dismissed as they do recognise the longstop.

The advisory firm- a partnership in this case, closed in a correct way in 1998 with full PIA regulatory approval and it is not in FSCS default.

The adviser made it clear that he did not wish his address to be given and he gave some specific, valid reasons in response to the FSCS’s asking.

These reasons were dismissed out of hand, without any explanation as to why other than to refer to ICO guidance.

The adviser told the FSCS that he would complain to the ICO. He felt it was unfair to release his details when the firm was not in default and that the complaint would have been dismissed under FIMBRA, PIA and FSA rules as well as the FSCS own rules by way of being out of time on so many levels, including the FSCS’s own application of a longstop.

As a result the FSCS then advised the ICO, to whom that complaint about data release was made, that the complaint was made to “delay the consumer in getting compensation”.

The FSCS, in saying it can release data so long after the date of the advice being given, reasons that “considerable weight has to be given to the legitimate interests of the customer”.

In this case the decision seems very unfair, surely the adviser has rights too?

Tell us what you think about the FSCS and especially their funding in this short survey, have they got it right? We think they have not.

Do you?

A banking morality tale

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

20 Oct 2016

A banking morality tale

Wells Fargo Fined $185 Million for Fraudulently Opening Accounts.

The following first appeared in the New York Times last month and showed that old banking habits die hard. In fact the scandal was so great that the US Senate, House Financial Services Committee decided to intervene. 

For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.

September saw these illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued.

Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved.

In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 40 million retail customers.

Some customers noticed the deception when they were charged unexpected fees, received credit or debit cards in the mail that they did not request, or started hearing from debt collectors about accounts they did not recognize.

But most of the sham accounts went unnoticed, as employees would routinely close them shortly after opening them. Wells has agreed to refund about $2.6 million in fees that may have been inappropriately charged. 

Wells Fargo is famous for its culture of cross-selling products to customers — routinely asking, say, a checking account holder if she would like to take out a credit card. Regulators said the bank’s employees had been motivated to open the unauthorized accounts by compensation policies that rewarded them for opening new accounts; many current and former Wells employees told regulators they had felt extreme pressure to open as many accounts as possible.

“Unchecked incentives can lead to serious consumer harm, and that is what happened here,” said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Wells said the employees who were terminated included managers and other workers. A bank spokeswoman declined to say whether any senior executives had been reprimanded or fired in the scandal.

“Wells Fargo is committed to putting our customers’ interests first 100 percent of the time, and we regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request,” the bank said in a statement.

One Wells customer in Northern California, Shahriar Jabbari, had seven additional accounts that he did not consent to, according to a lawsuit he filed against the bank last year in federal court.

When Mr. Jabbari called the bank asking what he should do with three new debit cards he did not authorize, a bank employee told him to dispose of them, according to the lawsuit. 

Mr. Jabbari said in the lawsuit that his credit score had suffered because unpaid fees on the unauthorized accounts had been sent to a debt collector.

Banking regulators said the widespread nature of the illegal behavior showed that the bank lacked the necessary controls and oversight of its employees.

Ensuring that large banks have tight controls has been one of the central preoccupations of banking regulators after the mortgage crisis.

Such pervasive problems at Wells Fargo, which has headquarters in San Francisco, stand out given all of the scrutiny that has been heaped on large, systemically important banks since 2008.

“If the managers are saying, ‘We want growth; we don’t care how you get there,’ what do you expect those employees to do?” said Dan Amiram, an associate business professor at Columbia University. 

It is a particularly ugly moment for Wells, one of the few large American banks that have managed to produce consistent profit increases since the financial crisis. Wells has earned a reputation on Wall Street as a tightly run ship that avoided many of the missteps of the mortgage crisis because it took fewer risks than many of its competitors.

At the same time, Wells has managed to be enormously profitable, as other large banks continued to stumble because of tighter regulations and a choppy economy.

Analysts have marveled at the bank’s ability to cross-sell mortgages, credit cards and auto loans to customers. The strategy is at the core of modern-day banking: Rather than spend too much time and money recruiting new customers, sell existing customers on new products.

Wells Fargo markets itself as the quintessential Main Street lender, stressing the value of creating long-term relationships with customers over earning a quick buck.

But that apple-pie approach was undercut, regulators say, by a compensation program that encouraged employees to push the limits.

“It is way out of character for one of the cleanest banks around,” said Mike Mayo, a banking analyst at CLSA. “It’s a head-scratcher why so many employees felt comfortable crossing the line.”

In many cases, customers took notice only when they received a letter in the mail congratulating them on opening a new account.

Many of the questionable accounts were created by moving a small amount of money from the customer’s current account to open the new one.

Shortly after opening the sham account, the bank employee closed it down and moved the money back, according to regulators.

But Wells employees were still most likely able to get credit for opening new accounts in meeting their sales goals, the regulators said.

In addition to the fine from the consumer protection bureau, Wells paid $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles city attorney worked with banking regulators on the case. 

The bank stressed that the refunds have been relatively small — averaging about $25. The bank hired an independent consultant that reviewed tens of millions of accounts from May 2011 through July 2015.

The bank said it refunded money to customers if there was even the slightest possibility they were charged improperly because of unauthorized accounts.

“As a result of our customer-first methodology, we believe we included accounts that were actually appropriately opened and authorized by a customer,” the bank said in a statement.

Even regulators concede that the financial harm to consumers was not large. But the more troubling aspect, they said, was how the behavior reflected a broader culture inside Wells’s retail operations.

“Consumers must be able to trust their banks,” said Mike Feuer, the Los Angeles city attorney. “Consumers must never be taken advantage of by their banks.”

Stock of Wells Fargo, which is the largest bank in the country by market capitalization but fourth-largest by assets, rose 13 cents on Thursday, to $49.90 a share.

USA Today reported that “Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf has agreed to give up $41 million in unvested stock awards following the board of directors’ investigation into the bank’s sales practices, the company said Tuesday.

Additionally, Carrie Tolstedt,

Wells Fargo’s former head of community banking, will forego all her unvested equity stock awards valued at $19 million and will not receive retirement benefits worth millions more. 

Tolstedt was responsible for the division during the time employees allegedly created sham accounts to meet sales targets. She has announced she will retire at the end of year.

And the footnote to this is that last week John Stumpf resigned with immediate effect. The California Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into Wells Fargo.

And while all eyes have been on Wells Fargo in the wake of the bank’s fake accounts scandal, Fortune Magazine notes that “there is another, not so apparent culprit at the heart of the crisis: the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Under SEC Chair Mary Jo White’s watch, the agency has failed to enforce disclosure requirements at Wells Fargo and elsewhere at a time when trust in big business has hit historic lows”.

And the lesson that UK banks should learn from this is?

And the lesson UK regulators should learn from this is?