I found myself a torn writing this piece as I was taught not to raise problems without also providing potential solutions, but here goes.
Why have I decided to wind down, what I consider to be a growing business with excellent prospects to go back to being employed?
The answer is because of the distinct lack of quality in the adviser space, I realise that this statement will raise a lot of heckles, but to be quite honest if you are reading this piece, I am most likely not referring to you.
During my six years of owning and operating Plan Works, I have been asked to produce reports recommending things that you would not wish on your worst enemy. Recommendations that quite honestly made my blood boil and things that just made me want to contact the end client directly and tell them that the advice that is being provided is just plainly only in the interest in the adviser recommending it.
Having non-disclosure agreements in place prevented me from not only doing what I wanted to do but also from whistleblowing without protection against potential future litigation.
I am not talking about advisers not disclosing MiFID II costs. I am talking about full-on breaches of acting in the client’s best interest.
Allow me to provide a few examples:
- Husband and wife with £1m worth of property liabilities, the husband is a self-employed consultant who has just had a triple heart bypass at the age of 50, and his wife is the housemaker. Proposed recommendation? Transfer £200,000 worth of existing pensions into to the in house DFM portfolio for growth.
When I asked why the possibility of protection had not been considered, the head of compliance told me, and I quote, “Our advisers are not interested in selling protection.” To which I responded, “You may have well as just told me that your advisers have no interest in best serving their clients.”
Needless to say, that was a very short-lived relationship which could have been very profitable for me and Plan Works, but it is not something that I could put my name to.
- An elderly lady whose assets are under Court of Protection needed access to £800 a year from her portfolio of £800,000 which was in cash. The suggested recommendation was to move the portfolio from cash to the advisers DFM proposition which was going to cost the client in the region of £16,000 a year.
When I asked why the money was being moved from cash and invested, costing the client 20 times more than she needed each year, and highlighted that the client could live another 1,000 years before she ran out of money, I was told that I didn’t understand the rules around Court of Protection cases. I clearly wasn’t the outsourced paraplanner for them.
Again, this could have been a very lucrative contract for Plan Works as the company in question is very well established; however, my moral compass could not get over the blatant betrayal of the client.
- A well-off couple who had paid off their mortgage who were advised to seek the assistance of another adviser to be able to get a mortgage who should then come back to him/her to invest the mortgage money.
A client who had a pension in an Offshore Bond with a £40,000 exit penalty who wanted to access the entire pot to start a new business in the Far East. When I asked what other assets, the client had to support their income in retirement, I was told that this information is not available and in any case, the adviser was only charging an initial fee and not having anything to do with any ongoing advice.
I asked an adviser whether or not he or she had considered the client’s workplace pension to place the clients’ other pension assets. To which I was met with the reply, “why would I do that? I need Transact in my life!”
Hopefully, these examples give you a flavour of some of the things I have witnessed, and I don’t confess to knowing everything about how financial services work, but none of the above examples feels like a good result for the client.
I am painting a bleak picture of the advice sector, but the clients that Plan Works receives regular work from and remain clients to this day are the good ones, no doubt like yourself. The ones that agonise over the small stuff while others just couldn’t care less.
So, to answer my initial question, why have I decided to wind down a perfectly good business to become employed again?
Well, it is because I didn’t feel I could make enough of a difference within Plan Works. Having worked with Informed Choice under the guise of Plan Works they are one of only two companies local to me that I would consider working with who put the client at the centre of everything they do.
A little less regulation, a little more action, please!
This is where I am torn; you will find me regularly criticising the regulator for the introduction of more and more regulation which feels like it is being implemented to make the lives of smaller adviser firms harder to operate.
However, the examples I have provided demonstrate that there are advisers out there that just could not give two hoots about the end client and the British Steel debacle was a prime example of this.
I have found myself jesting with some advisers saying things like, why do you bother to do the right thing when you can do the wrong thing, walk away with thousands of pounds of client’s money and either disappear, open a new advice company or even worse, set up a claims company to make claims against the very advice that you gave.
I, to this day, do not understand why these people are not being tried for fraud. Where is the incentive for advisers not to do this? Other than your own internal moral compass.
I know why other advisers don’t do the wrong thing. It’s because they have ethics and like to be able to sleep at night, and this is the very reason why I would refuse to produce reports, where the advice was clearly in the adviser’s interests, placed before those of the client.
So, what is the answer? Honestly, I do not know.
More regulation may not be the answer. I feel better enforcement is, but the FCA most likely have the same budget pressures as the rest of society, so we need, as a profession, to come up with another way of policing the bad ones.
In conclusion, while I agree with some advisers that the regulator is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut unless we can collaboratively work together to come up with a better way to rid the industry of the rogues.
I think for the time being we need to stick with the status quo and accept that while the likes of PROD and MiFID II can seem to be pointless, they have been introduced for a reason and it is not to make our lives harder. But instead to make enforcement more effective and to nail those that clearly could not care less.