Taking Libertatem with new adviser trade body

Jon Cudby

It’s not easy being a financial adviser. Several not unrelated issues bombard you on a daily basis. Whether it is insistent clients, mis-selling claims, the lack of a long-stop, spiralling professional indemnity costs or just overly intrusive and draconian regulation, there is no shortage of problems chipping away at your serenity and prompting the grunts and grumbles I hear so regularly.

And it is not as if anyone is fighting your corner, at least not adequately. At a time when advisers are more embattled than ever, the organisations that should be shouldering your load and standing up for practitioners of good old-fashioned advice are notable by their absence.

Several national networks proliferated over the past few decades, enveloping small advice firms with the promise of taking care of their regulatory and compliance needs while also saving those firms from having to worry about smaller issues like stationery. But those networks are now disappearing quicker than Labour MPs in Scotland.

And there is every chance advisers will need support – or defence. However much you help them, clients are all too likely to turn on you as soon as they sniff an opportunity. Anyone doubting this just has to look at the recent Fos statistics which showed that the most notable consumer response to the pension freedoms has been a significant increase in mis-selling claims relating to annuities. The rise is from a low base, admittedly, but it represents a trickle that could turn to a flood once Joe Public has spent the compensation he got from chancing his arm in an endowment or PPI claim and needs to find a new revenue stream.

So who will stand up for advisers? The obvious answer is trade bodies. But those organisations, once the bastion of the advice community, seem to have collectively lost their way and – at a time when you would all benefit from some lobbying or support – are generally falling short.

Despite changing its name from Aifa to Apfa in the immediate aftermath of the RDR, recognising that it could not be exclusively the preserve of independents, the Association still seems to be struggling to determine its members’ collective identity. The name change feels like it is using the word ‘professional’ as a compromise rather than an aspiration; a label it had to settle for because it couldn’t use ‘independent’.

The body is also accused of representing networks and firms rather than actual advisers, so feels detached from those at the coalface.

The IFP, meanwhile, has a clear idea of who its members are and delivers them an excellent conference every autumn, but beyond that I’m not sure what it offers. Too often these days, it feels like the IFP is benefiting from its members’ status when it is supposed to be the other way round.

The PFS has a broad remit and significant numbers, but has the feel of a club rather than an active lobbying agency for change. And while it offers size, its conference is a shadow of the IFP’s, last year prompting complaints from disgruntled attendees complaining that they had just been subjected to little more than a series of sales pitches.