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”?  

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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

Stop the shorting monster

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

17 Jan 2018

Stop the shorting monster

A short sale is a transaction in which an investor sells borrowed securities in anticipation of a price drop and is required to return an equal number of shares at some point in the future.

A short seller makes money if the stock goes down, a lot of money if it drops a lot.

Shorting is legal. But is it morally acceptable?

This is a question that many outside the financial services industry will be asking, especially when there is such a baying for the blood for directors’failures, political failures, huge salaries being paid for gardening leave and in particular the huge sums of money being owed to small contractors and in fact to Carillion by those it worked for.

Hedge funds have made paper profits of hundreds of millions of dollars over the last year. Shorting of Carillion stock will have done their bit to boost the coffers.

The thirty thousand small firms in Carillion’s supply chain now face an anxious wait to see if they will be eligible for any government help to pay an estimated £1bn of outstanding bills. Many will fail, quite possibly because without the cash they cannot pay their tax bills on the 31st January, but the hedge funds will have no such dilemas

Rudi Klein, chief executive of SEC Group, which represents thousands of small businesses, said it was “inexcusable” that Carillion had “imperiled the supply chain”.

Hedge funds shorting will not have helped.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin amazingly came out with that great stock phrase so often used in times of collective failure, on Tuesday’s Channel 4 news, that he would be calling the company’s management, employees and customers as part of a bid to “learn lessons” from this unholy governmental fuelled mess.

What!!!!!

Why not the hedge funds too, who could see only too well that this was coming ages ago?

I think all those small businesses who worked on Carillion contracts that had payment terms of 120 days may think that this is too little too late.

Perhaps now is the time for the FCA to look at shorting and considering banning the practice as shorting just rubs salt into a very large and gaping Carillion wound and will continue to do so when this type of thing happens again, which it will.

Just a thought.

Regulation, competition and consumers

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

2 Jan 2018

Regulation, competition and consumers

Please do not get me going so soon in 2018, after all it’s only the first full working week of January

The FCA has released the minutes of its November 9th board meeting. Buried within the text was an interesting section on competition. The minutes noted that:

The Board received the draft Approach to Competition document outlining how the FCA seeks to promote competition in the interests of consumers. It was noted that surveys had shown that competition was the least understood of the FCA’s objectives and so the document would form a useful piece of communication, demonstrating that FCA regulation promotes competition, which is fundamental to making markets work well.

There is something very wrong, very wrong indeed. Could it mean that somebody in Canary Wharf is having a Damascene conversion.

By default or intent, the various regulators over the years I have been active in the industry, from Nasdim, FIMBRA, PIA, FSA and FCA have spent their time in ensuring that the very last thing done is to promote competition. In fact, the very daily act of regulation would seem to be to do the exact opposite.

I think we could look back at many examples of this such as the removal long ago of the maximum commission agreement to RDR, the removal of commissions and a move to fee-based advice.

I had the great fortune to sell my IFA practice 12 years ago, a driver for taking the plunge was that having worked under the ‘control’ of four different regulatory regimes- NASDIM, FIMBRA, PIA and FSA. The prospect of never seeing longevity of regulatory regimes, the application of common sense and fairness all went to paint 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, cynicism maybe, and while I do see an absolute need to have regulation of financial services, it seems to me that wherever there is regulation, consumer detriment 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 yearnings, 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 or love induced stupor that fuelled its creation has gone away.

Has the consumer benefited?

Many may say no.

It would seem that the FCA may be considering that as a distinct possibility

Access to financial advice for the masses has been exterminated. Even if it was freely available in the fiscal sense, 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.

The problem with regulation over the years and as we enter 2018 is that you cannot regulate for lack of common sense, yet that is what we keep trying to do. Caveat emptor has gone at the expense of the consumer rather than in their defence

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, writing, eating with a knife and fork and very many more.

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

We have a snowflake 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 its 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’.

I did say do not get me going so soon!

The conundrum of Robo Responsibility

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

21 Nov 2017

The conundrum of Robo Responsibility

Earlier this month Professor Stephen Hawking issued a chilling warning about the imminent rise of artificial intelligence. During the new interview, Professor Hawking warned that AI will soon reach a level where it will be a ‘new form of life that will outperform humans.’

There is a move afoot to bring the delivery of financial advice into the 21st century. After all with the smart phone, tablet and virtual reality all breaking through boundaries, why should financial advice not find itself in the vanguard of change?

It should work, could work, but will not work until something very simple yet clearly requiring a considerable volte-face takes place.

So, here’s a thought for you lovers of Steve Jobs and even Ned Ludd.

This may take a little of your time but bear with me please.

Steve Jobs reckoned that “Older people sit down and ask, ‘What is it?’ but the boy asks, ‘What can I do with it?”.

Smart technology exists and is readily available in the average home. Algorithm based analytics are there, right now, to deliver for the mass market an automated method of providing the average family with the ability to self medicate their financial ailments and prescribe a solution.

This happens in many areas of web based life today so why not financial services?

The elephant in the room of progress is the word ‘advice’. Because in the financial services world where products are delivered/ sold/ distributed by the intermediated channel the buck of responsibility always stops with the financially weakest part of the process, the advisory firm.

Product failure, rather like design failure in modern airliners, is unheard of. With an airplane the crash blame is pretty much always directed at the pilot.

Robo or automated solutions should work, it is all in the ‘math’? Very complicated algorithms drive the customer to a very specific outcome.

This is where it gets complicated because at the moment should the algorithm prove in five, ten or fifteen years to have had an unforeseen glitch regulatory retrospective retribution will rain down on the advisory firm, not the maker of the programme.

There is a simple solution to a complex problem.

That is to have the algorithms certified as fit for the purpose they were designed for.

Fit for purpose accreditation already exists in other areas of regulation. Aircraft cannot fly in UK airspace without CAA approval. Drugs are certified as fit for purpose and prescription with the Medicines & Healthcare products
Regulatory Agency.

So why can the FCA not approve automated advice models as fit for purpose?

The answer according to Andrew Mansley at the FCA, who I spoke to at some length at the PFS Festival, is that it would be “anti competitive”.

What!!!!!!

There are examples of this statement being used to create chaos and detriment in this industry. The Maximum Commission Agreement springs to mind. For those new to the world of financial services this is an essential read

For those with not enough time served in this industry, you should know that from the late eighties increased commission levels from larger distribution channels were being sought after the OFT got rid of the Maximum Commission Agreement (MCA) as it was seen to be anti-competitive.

I suspect the real reason would be that, in the words of Hector Sants, not known to Mr. Mansley, “if the regulator was to take responsibility for it’s actions, nobody would want to do the job”.

The FCA needs to consider the following simple steps to improve the embrace of automated opportunities.

  1. All robo models should apply to the FCA for approval, that approval will certify what the programme can and cannot do and rather like a fully automated vehicle
  2. The FCA approval will apply to the algorithms and the programme
  3. Any changes, upgrades would require a certification upgrade
  4. The robo technology would require PI cover for any unforeseen failures and not the adviser firm
  5. The advisory firm would NOT be responsible for any advice/ guidance failure of the robo programme as part of the FCA sign off
  6. In October last year, Professor Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could develop a will of its own that is in conflict with that of humanity. With this in mind, the advice responsibility buck stops with the technology provider and not the adviser

 

Put these in place and both the regulator and the software house would think very carefully about failure, the adviser could engage with more consumers with confidence restored.

We can always dream?

In the business of crime there’s two people involved

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

13 Oct 2017

In the business of crime there’s two people involved

It was during this same month six years ago that I first read with some dismay, but an overall lack of surprise, that the then FSA had opted not to license or pre-approve financial services products, due to what it claimed were a “lack of resources”.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone reading this that back in 2011 the consumer had already faced considerable detriment as a result of financial products such as PPI. And the regulator’s helpful response almost every time was to point out flaws in product design, marketing or understanding of the product – all with the benefit of hindsight.

Fast forward to 2017 and the same issues rumble on as a result of the regulator’s inaction to preapprove products before they are made available to consumers. Around this time last week, for example, the news broke that the FSCS had begun accepting claims for bad investment advice in relation to a failed property scheme Harlequin.

Anyone invested in Harlequin would have, at first, been deemed ineligible for FSCS compensation as the product would have been considered a direct investment. But the FSCS reviewed this position and found new evidence that the Harlequin products likely fall under the banner of unregulated collective investment schemes (UCIS), which qualifies them for FSCS protection. The FSCS is also already paying claims against firms for bad mortgage advise and pension switching, if the underlying investment was in a Harlequin resort.

If I’ve said this once I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll keep doing so in the hope that one day the regulator will finally see the light: regulation should not be about being wise after the event. It should be about utilising experience when things going wrong to make sure mistakes and failures do not happen again. To licence a product as fit for purpose, with that purpose clearly defined, as part of the regulatory process is the surely best way of achieving this? I’d even go one step further to say it’s the single most effective consumer benefit a regulator could put in place.

The situation with Harlequin, and most other examples for that matter, are always about the advice and not the product. The FCA has been careful to point out that any adviser recommending Harlequin was expected to have carried out thorough due diligence on any Harlequin investments “to fully satisfy themselves that it is a suitable investment”.

In no way aim I suggesting due diligence isn’t a crucial part of the advice process but let’s consider a slightly different approach for a moment. If products were regulated from the outset, and advisers regulated by the FCA were not allowed to engage, at all, with unregulated products – commission paying or not – problems and losses such as this would not happen. And crucially, the tab would not have to be picked up by the FSCS.

I’ve been suspicious for a long time now that the FCA’s decision back in 2011 was really nothing to do with resource and instead was all about responsibility and, ultimately, who the finger points at when things go wrong. Sadly, this latest development in the Harlequin case only confirms my suspicions yet again. It seems that without something to bash the regulator would perhaps feel it has no purpose, or as Keith Richards of the Rolling Stone’s, not PFS, once said of the policing system, “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.”

Some have suggested that the resource needed by the FCA to pre-approve products would have resulted in a huge increase in fees. But then there’s the alternative, logical, argument that perhaps if products were licenced there would be fewer failures to fund? Just a thought…

Death by regulator

Panacea Comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

11 Sep 2017

Death by regulator

We hear that the FCA has announced a ‘Terminator’ inspired marketing campaign, yes, a marketing campaign, to encourage those who have not had a win on the PPI lottery yet to get truly lucky.

The regulator is treating compensation opportunity creation as if it is a DFS sales campaign.

The outcome (iove that word)? The claims management industry has just had a boost in the form of a £42m advertising campaign that has cost them absolutely nothing. This includes advertising and dedicated phone line costs.

And as for this FCA statement:  “If you had a previous complaint about mis-selling of PPI rejected, but now want to complain about a provider earning a high level of commission, you should follow the steps below”.

Since 2011 over £27bn has been paid out in PPI compensation. How much more will this generate?

But the big worry with this campaign is about where it will lead to if FOS complaints are to be rejected and then re-allowed at a later date based on what the firm was paid. Remember, advisers have no longstop, in this case confirmed with words like this from the FCA You can complain about mis-selling of PPI however long ago it was sold to you”.

Words fail me. Will the last compensation payer turn the lights out when they leave?

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