Buses, Baltimore, and the importance of ‘owning the game’.

Whilst I find a lot which appears on my tellybox nowadays unwatchable there’s a bunch of shows which I’d consider ‘classics’. Shows which compel you to watch, engage you emotionally and if owned on box set mean that you lose another four hours just saying ‘oh go on them, let’s watch one more episode’….

For me these shows include The West Wing, The Simpsons, The Soprano’s, and

without a shadow of a doubt one of the most compelling, gritty, violent portrayals of urban life ever to grace the small screen…

…On the buses!

I jest of course the show in question is…

…The Wire.

Whilst being well known for being fantastically written piece of drama based focussing on various of aspects of Baltimore culture (including examining life with politics, criminal cartels, the press, the police and the dockworkers) it’s also jam packed full of immensely quotable sayings many of which are used as an epigraph at the start of each show. Phrases like…

“I got the shotgun, You’ve got the briefcase.”

“Come at the king….you best not miss.”

and

“No one wins. One side just loses more slowly.”

Now, I’ve never been to Baltimore.

Or ever been involved in gang or drug culture.

I didn’t even follow in my Dad and Grandad’s footstep and ever work in a dock.

However I couldn’t get a phrase out of my head recently which when I gave it more thought I reckoned it wouldn’t look out of place on a show like “The Wire”

“The ones who own the product….own the game”

Whilst I’m sure this phrase could potentially be linked to most industries (including but definitely not exclusively the narcotics ‘business’) the business I was thinking about was the “game” most of the people who are reading this “professionally play”.

Historically financial services has has a similar structure to a lot of industries related to product manufacture and distribution.

The “Product” (or products) was manufactured by ‘product providers’.

This “Product” be it a pension, an investment or a protection ‘shelll’ were distributed by these firms directly through their own saleforces and via intermediaries indirectly..

..and these manufacturing companies boomed as a result.

Whilst the intermediary distributors of “Product” benefited financially these benefits have historically been defined and controlled by the product manufacturers as well as ensuring that the true longer term winners were the true beneficiaries of the lions share of the financial gains.

 “The ones who own the product….own the game”

If you look at the websites of any of the trade mags (with a couple of exceptions) you’ll find much of the news about (currently) annuities, the “pensions” part of auto enrolment and a lot about funds. Whilst there are smatterings of news about regulation and advisory practice issues it’s no surprise that the majority of these magazines encourage and promote issues which are important to the businesses responsible for their future survival.

Their audience? erm, yeah sort of.

However without the income from sponsors many of these publications would not be commercially viable.

So, those who own the product defines the news and influences the debate.

and

The ones who own the product…..own the game

There’s an argument to say the game is changing.

The changes in the market over the last couple of years have meant that there is more focus on “Professional Advice” being the product instead of the product being “Pension” or “Critical Illness cover” or “Platform portfolio”

Whilst I know this is true within my business, in your business and in the businesses of the people reading this article I’m concerned that we’re the exception as opposed to the rule.

It’s no surprise to see some product manufacturer’s doing deals with distribution channels to secure this arrangement and protect the status quo.

However there’s one thing I truly believe about our profession…

“The further we move our profession away from financial product and towards true financial planning the more trust we’ll build within our clients, our professional connections and the millions currently disenfranchised with financial services professionals….even though these are the people who need our help the most)”

However this raises an issue….

If the product manufacturers and distributors have historically owned the “product” (and therefore the game) how do financial planners and advisers take back the ownership of the game and deliver better outcomes to our clients.

I reckon the answers probably simpler than we all think…

“You change the product” 

I reckon you do this in a bunch of different ways.

Having a clear proposition focussed on ‘client’ and not ‘product’ might be one way.

Moving the debate away from “pensions” or “annuities” and towards “money as a tool to enjoy ones life” might be another.

Ensuring our pricing structure is clearly independent and unrelated to product might be another.

Building tools which empower people to get actively involved in planning their financial futures might be another.

This “change in product” is already happening slowly buy surely. We see these innovations come from some of the best firms in our profession. We’re also seeing a bunch of innovative (and a handful of old school) ‘traditional’ product providers understanding that these changes are occurring and starting to speak in this relatively new language.

Maybe the game is changing….maybe it’s not. But as soon as we start to change the sole focus of “the game” to ensure the consumer is the one who primarily benefits the all better off we’ll be.

However, these are just my thoughts and I’m really interested in what you think…

Am I right to say that the game is traditionally owned by product manufacturers? Do you agree that there is a changing trend? Would the consumer be better off with a different approach? What would rebuild trust? How do we change the debate? Does ‘the game’ or debate need to be changed at all?

and should I have genuinely included ‘on the buses’ as a TV classic?!

As ever I look forward to hearing from you.

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