Is the Regulator failing Advisers?

I was at a recent event where the regulator were once again expressing their dissatisfaction with their findings from the British Steel pension scheme debacle. This time, they seemed even more angered by the events.

While they have legitimate cause for concern, I can not help but feel this is another case of taking action after the horse has bolted. This is way too reactive and failing to stamp out such unscrupulous behavior could set back the advice profession best part of 10 years. Not to mention undoing all the hard work to make the financial advice profession more, for want of a better word, professional.

Such negative press certainly taints financial advisers in the eyes of the public and other professionals. For the time being, let’s forget debates about being independent, that’s more of an internal concern. It’s time to be more outward looking.

I certainly don’t see the same level of negative press about accountants and solicitors, yet we should be deemed equally as professional. For me, the bad eggs – of which there are fortunately fewer and fewer, are the unregulated firms who could be any ‘guy down the pub’ and not a regulated adviser. How they can get away with setting up a financial advice firm is beyond me. Especially when many are repeat offenders and simply start up under a new trading name.

I can’t help but think these other professions are better policed by their governing bodies. Not only that, they also appear have less need for heavy handed regulation. Solicitors deal with many vulnerable and less well educated clients, yet they take up much less column inches and make the headlines less often with horror stories of bad practice.

Sadly, I’m sure there are also unscrupulous individuals operating in those professions. In fact, I have come across very few that are willing to give up any free time to help educate a potential client. Whereas many advisers appear the type of people who will give up some of their time to help people. In addition, their customer service skills are generally not that great and they rely on being more transactional. Many still bamboozle with jargon, relying on that to ensure they aren’t rigorously questioned by the majority of their clients.

On the upside, there is work going on to make it easier for the public to find a good quality financial advisers. As with many professions, the most reliable and trustworthy firms will likely be some of the busiest. At a time where there is a shortage of advisers, it’s probably not easy for the majority of the public to access financial advice.

The updated FCA adviser search tool is an improvement. It’s just a shame it’s not promoted, not to mention that most of the public don’t know it exists. Never mind how and where to find it.

On another positive, we could well see that situation improved by the new single guidance body the Money and Pensions Service (MAPS). I’m certainly expecting better things based on what I’ve seen and heard so far. Just a shame the government don’t have a sufficient budget to support consumers and that advisers have to pay for it. With that being the case, the onus further falls upon the good professionals to give up even more money that could be used to improve and promote their business. Or even to take on and train more advisers!

For now, I will keep an open mind. Especially with examples such as the Interserve pension scheme being warned last year about the possibility of being a target for pension transfers due to the uncertainty surrounding the financial stability of that scheme. Such intervention from The Pensions Regulator meant that alongside the FCA, they started signposting members to The Pensions Advisory Service (now MAPS).

Tim Morris

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