The problem with regulation is that you eventually run out of other peoples’ money

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

8 Jan 2018

The problem with regulation is that you eventually run out of other peoples' money.

Regulation, we are told, is a vital part of society, it is local, national, European and some cases global yet despite its ever invasive, viral presence in UK society it seems that the more we regulate the worse it gets.

And the regulator in just about every case will claim it is not their fault.

Regulators raison d’être is to ensure that consumers are protected at all times, now verging on protection from themselves.

But regulation is self-perpetuating, a real-life version of perpetual motion that pays a lot of money to those for whom that career path is chosen. Here is some interesting information on FCA salaries.

We all know about the failures of regulation in financial services, but, would UK plc and its population (now commonly referred to as ‘vulnerable consumers’, ‘stressed commuters’, ‘long suffering motorists’ or ‘hard working families’) be better off as a result of much reduced regulatory action.

Should it be replaced with that all important mix of (fast diminishing human attributes that regulation has rendered idle) common sense, caveat emptor and intuitition?

Below is a sample selection of regulators, where I think many reading this would see systemic, chronic confusion, failure, cover ups, unintended consequences and huge spends seeing zero benefit for everyone except those that work in regulation.

There are many, many more.

Electricity regulation: OFGEM is the regulator; their strap line is “making a positive difference for energy consumers”. Deregulation and creating free markets (that in fact now need all this regulation) or the failure of regulators to keep up with fast-moving markets, can become unbelievably costly, as we can all now see. The worldwide electricity sector reforms of the early 1990s have revealed the complexities of introducing market driven reforms and making them work in network and infrastructure industries.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier?

Gas regulation: OFGEM again. Ofgem found British Gas incorrectly blocked businesses from switching and failed to give some businesses notice that their contract was due to end. The fine was £5.6m, but really just another large fine that means nothing.

Most complaints about energy companies are about inaccurate, late or unclear energy bills. The Code of Practice for Accurate Bills from the Energy Retail Association sets out requirements for how energy bills should be calculated and issued.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier?

Food regulation: That other FSA, the Food Standards Agency. Paris says Brussels and London are dragging their heels over proposals to improve food safety by introducing the labeling of meat in ready-made meals. And only last week we hear that the lamb in our kebabs is chicken or beef. The cost of food labeling compliance in the UK is estimated at £32.5m for just one major retailer.

Were we better off pre-regulation? Were we better off when we did not have supermarkets and fast food outlets, seeing what we brought at butchers, bakers, greengrocers?

Telephone regulation: OFCOM is the communications regulator. They regulate the TV and radio sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.

The regulatory ‘Waterbed’ effect is already well illustrated in the mobile phone industry where regulation fixes the prices of basic products and services only for consumers to see significant increases in the price of peripherals and additional services as a direct consequence.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier, the GPO?

Railways: ORR The Office of Rail Regulation are the economic regulator for railway infrastructure (Network Rail and HS1); the health and safety regulator for the rail industry as a whole – including mainline, metro, tramways and heritage railways across Britain; and the industry’s consumer and competition authority.

With rail fares up again in 2018, were we better off pre- denationalization, privatisation and pre regulation with just one supplier- British Rail?

National Health regulation: Now here it get’s really complicated and it is little wonder that healthcare is in such a mess.

In hospitals we used to have a simple management structure, it was called ‘Matron”.

Look at these regulatory bodies, is it any wonder that we see so many problems, with the very simple mission objective being to make people better being thwarted at every regulatory door, often ending it would seem in DBNHS (death by national health service).

MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe.

The MHRA is a centre of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which also includes the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), and the Clinical Practice Research Data link (CPRD). The MHRA is an executive agency of the Department of Health.

CQC’s The Care Quality Commission (CQC) makes sure hospitals, care homes, dental and GP surgeries, and all other care services in England provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high quality care, and encourages these services to make improvements.

NICE National Institute for Health and Care Excellence provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care. It develops guidance, standards and information on high quality health and social care. It also advises on ways to promote healthy living and prevent ill health.

HFEA Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is the UK’s independent regulator dedicated to licensing and monitoring fertility clinics and research involving human embryos.

NIHR The National Institute for Health Research is a large, multi-faceted and nationally distributed organisation. Together, NIHR people, facilities and systems represent the most integrated clinical research system in the world, driving research from bench to bedside for the benefit of patients.

PHE Public Health England was established on April 1st 2013, just like the FCA, to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations, including the former Health Protection Agency (HPA), into a single public health service.

PSA Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care promotes the health, safety and wellbeing of patients, service users and the public, by raising standards of regulation and voluntary registration of people working in health and care. It is an independent body, accountable to the UK parliament.

Is it any wonder that doing businesses, society and life in general is made more expensive, difficult, confusing and less fit for purpose?

Here, with some help from Wikipedia, is a list of some I may have missed:

Charities

Education

  • Ofqual – Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation
  • Ofsted – Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills

Environment

Finance

Health

Law

Social Care

Transport

Utilities

PhonepayPlus – regulator for phone-paid services in the UK, part of Ofcom, replaces ICSTIS

Others

EU leaders meet in to discuss ways to improve growth and competitiveness across Europe. Using data from the UK Government’s impact assessments of these rules, Open Europe estimated that the top 100 EU laws cost the UK economy £27.4 billion a year. This was more than the UK Treasury expected to raise in revenue from Council Tax (£27 billion). 
And laws equal regulaton equals regulators.

Those hardworking families are doing so just to keep this lot going.

The unintended cost burdens of regulation in the UK are almost unquantifiable, certainly vast and in almost every case there are grounds to think that life could be simpler, cheaper and more fulfilling if we all took responsibility for our actions, adopted common sense in management styles, business practices, directives and substituting ‘elf and safety’ with sanity.

Time for a rethink?

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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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How much has the shiny new logo cost this time?

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

9 May 2017

How much has the shiny new logo cost this time?

In 2013, a Panacea FOI request exposed the rebrand cost for the FSA’s change to the FCA.

It was  £1,061,423 including VAT.

The FOI request went on to confirm the cost of the logo design saying:

“We have spent £48,000 on designing the FCA brand identity, £91,500 on developing the FCA brand guidelines, £57,000 on registering the new logo and on legal fees to resolve registration issues”.

So when we heard that the FCA had decided, after a shelf life of barely three years, to change it’s logo, we though it would be an idea to find out how much?

In their reply, an unnamed individual from the “Information Disclosure Team / Cyber and Information Resilience Department” said We undertook a refresh of the FCA brand to make sure our brand is accessible, open and transparent so that all our audiences understand our role.  In particular, we need to ensure our brand works well for digital use and takes into account accessibility considerations.  This is particularly important as we are planning to launch our first national TV and outdoor advertising campaign on PPI later this year. Consumer research in particular has helped inform our evolution of the FCA logo to ensure ‘Financial Conduct Authority’ is clearly legible and accessible”.

Given that in 2013 so much was spent on rebrand one might ask, purely from a business owner perspective, why the lifespan of a ‘global’ brand is just 3 years? That would suggest that either the brand brief or interpretation was incorrect in 2013.

The reply to our request was answered as follows.

          “Brand refresh 

·         The design cost:

£5,340

·         Legal costs:

£1,440

·         Implementation cost;

£66,410 – we have interpreted this to be the total cost (including the items above) – agency work to audit FCA brand and update logo and design approach, design templates for new brand, effra fonts and logo trademark registration.

·        Stationery cost”

There are currently no stationery costs. As stated above, the existing logo will be phased out over the next year and we will not change signage in our printed material such as letterheads or business cards until either they run out or we change address. 

Over the last 10 years the Panacea brand logo is unchanged, as is the Ford Motor Company’s, Apple and Coca Cola. In 2014, the Coca-Cola brand name alone was worth $67million, accounting for more than 54% of the company’s stock market value at that time.

It is said, a strong, consistent brand will allow the customer to know exactly what to expect each time they encounter your business” 

Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”.

In this case, the jury on the ‘how the FCA’s works’ is still out.

The cost of this exercise is quite small in regulatory terms. I am not sure what the effect is on consumers but I am sure that those it regulates will see this as another example of spending other peoples money without being responsible for how or if it works or in this case if you can notice the difference at all.

Can you spot the differences?

We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it

Panacea comment for Advisers and Paraplanners

24 Apr 2017

We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it

For those not old enough to know too much about the U.S. involvement in the 1960’s Vietnam war, and some of the madness surrounding it, this quote has gone down in history as an example of the some of the insanity that was Vietnam.

As with many examples of madness in what should be a sane world, this quote, which I was reminded of recently, is well worth considering alongside. It is Callum McCarthy’s six pillars of wisdom speech at Gleneagles in September 2006.

The so-called pillars on which RDR was to be founded were:


1.    an industry that engages with consumers in a way that delivers more clarity for them on products and services;

2.    a market which allows more consumers to have their needs and wants addressed;

3.    remuneration arrangements that allow competitive forces to work in favour of consumers;

4.    standards of professionalism that inspire consumer confidence and build trust;

5.    an industry where firms are sufficiently viable to deliver on their longer-term commitments and where they treat their customers fairly; 

6.    a regulatory framework that can support delivery of all of these aspirations and which does not inhibit future innovation where this benefits consumers. 

The Heath Report Two (THR2) had been created to examine the consumer detriment caused by the regulator’s actions in introducing the Retail Distribution Review.

The Heath Report Three (THR3) will be published toward the end of May.

As Garry said “It did not seek to be a learned academic document but to assemble in one place a clear description of what RDR has created and suggest lessons that might learnt”. 

In April 2014; the Panacea Team, Lee Travis, now at PFS and Garry Heath met the with the FCA which dismissed the survey of 1,752 advisers, representing over 50% of the direct authorised IFA firms, as “unimportant

At that April meeting, the FCA informed us that it would issue an internal review early in the autumn which we expected to be in praise of RDR.

In the end, the FCA commissioned European Consulting and Towers Watson to produce and issue two lacklustre reports, which were quietly released in the week before Christmas to a distracted media – hardly the action of a confident regulator.

These reports suggested that there was “no evidence of consumer benefit” leaving the FCA to opine that RDR’s “longer journey will benefit consumers”.

As Garry observed, this is reminiscent of Mr Micawber’s hope “that something will turn up”.

With the advisory community barely having the capacity to service some 10% of UK consumers financial planning needs and with the remaining 90% who do not want or cannot afford to pay for financial advice, we seem to be in a similar situation to the one described by Captain Miller’s, US Army Corps of Engineers  Commander, Task Force Builder, 1968  46th Engineer Battalion  159th Engineer Group ,recollection of Major Booris’s reasoning for destroying a whole village with so much firepower.

In the case of RDR only one of the six pillars stands, number 4. And as we all know you cannot build any sustainable structure on just one pillar. It just falls down. The regulator has ensured that the other five cannot be built as the ground beneath it has been destroyed by too much regulator firepower.

In the Vietnam movie ‘Apocalypse Now’, Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, asks a seasoned vet while riding a helicopter over enemy terrain “why do you guys sit on your helmets”?

The answer could be the same reason why IFAs only have a 10% capacity for advice?

Compliance and the Stupidity Paradox

Panacea comment for Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

13 Feb 2017

Compliance and the Stupidity Paradox

Compliance is an important part of the whole world of financial services and indeed many other worlds of business and governments.

In the world of financial services regulatory compliance “describes the goal that organisations aspire to achieve in their efforts to ensure that they are aware of and take steps to comply with relevant laws, policies, and regulations.

The rules are well defined, as we all know, in the FCA handbook. For the avoidance of any doubt, the regulator has even provided an introductory guide.

Regulated firms must follow FCA rules. The rules it would seem are clear (to the author/s) but the interpretation and purpose of them at times makes little sense.

A book, published in 2016 by the City University of London called the ‘Stupidity Paradox’ investigated common sense in decision-making.

Professor André Spicer’s research included input from management consultancies, banks, engineering firms, pharmaceutical companies, universities and schools.

The ‘outcomes’ of investigations into the ‘Stupidity Paradox’ revealed many examples of when common sense decisions are simply ignored.

Examples included: 

  • “Executives who more interested in impressive power point shows than systematic analysis.
  • Companies ran leadership development initiatives which would not be out of place in a new age commune.
  • Technology firms that were more interested in keeping a positive tone than addressing real problems.
  • Marketing executives who were obsessed with branding when all that counted was the price.
  • Corporations that would throw millions into ‘change exercises’ and then, when they failed, do exactly the same thing again and again

I just love the last one.

Professor Spicer’s concludes by asking, “Why could such organisations, employing so many people with high IQs and impressive qualifications do so many stupid things”.

I am reminded of the definition of a camel. It being a horse designed by committee.

I have worked since the early 80’s in the industry thought six different regulators- NASDIM, LAUTRO, FIMBRA, PIA, FSA and FCA. The average lifespan of a regulatory body being some six years.

With the exception of the FSA transition, rulebooks, even staffing, for the predecessor bodies have been subject to rewrite and new hire, not a roll over. The FCA transition was a re-skin.

What does ring loud and clear is that regulators do not, in the most part, seem to learn from past mistakes. Not only are ‘learnings missing, they more often than not refuse to accept responsibility or blame for past mistakes.

The FCA is now approaching four years old. So, in theory only another two to three years to go until yet another metamorphosis occurs. In that time it has seen two chief executives and a significant turnover of very senior staff embarking on a journey working for the firms they used to regulate.

Regulation is an industry. The thousands of pages in the FCA manual require firms in turn to employ thousands of people with high IQs and impressive qualifications to interpret the rules and ensure that their business implements them to the letter.

FCA research from 2015 found that 88% of large firms and 44% of small firms increased the amount of time and money they spent on compliance and the cost of regulation, according to New City Agenda is some  £1.2 billion.

But, and here is the big BUT. The finer interpretation of some rules would suggest that rather like in the Italian Highway Code, red lights are a suggestion, some rules make no sense in their implication.

We would love to know what examples you have of the Stupidity Paradox in financial services regulation today?

The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (Profile Books), by Mats Alvesson and André Spicer.

André Spicer is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, City University London.

Mats Alvesson is Professor of Business Administration at Lund University and a Visiting Professor at Cass Business School.