Starting at the bottom is often advised as the best means of really knowing a job. Indeed, as a younger man, Robert Fletcher – recently elected president of the Chartered Insurance Institute – was so keen on getting involved that after he took a summer job with Swinton Insurance Brokers he did not bother going back to school.
Thereafter, he took on a range of both general and life roles within the industry, finally rising in 2001 to director of marketing for Norwich Union’s life and pensions business in York. He moved on to Lloyds Banking Group-owned Scottish Widows in 2007, and was appointed secured lending operating director for the group in 2014.
Concern that financial advisers would react negatively to having ‘a banker’ at the head of the CII does, therefore, appear a tad misplaced. Indeed, Mr Fletcher remarked on how he had toured the UK meeting advisers as the CII’s deputy president during 2014/15.
So he is hardly an unknown quantity. But there is that ‘banker’ appellation to deal with. Mr Fletcher said: “I am well-versed in people having a stab at banking. But banks are thinking very differently from the way they did. There is nothing to be gained in a ‘banks versus insurance’ contest. Such in-fighting can only have a negative effect on the image of financial services in general.”
So has ‘banker-bashing’ gone too far? “Yes. Without banking, the UK grinds to a halt. It is the same with insurance. We have got to move on.”
Moving on is what the financial advice sector has been doing since RDR was introduced, having left behind some of its number who did not want to do the examinations, who possibly thought that the end of commission would make survival too difficult.
“RDR was a pill that had to be swallowed,” said Mr Fletcher. “Some time ago a wise boss of mine said the industry ends up with the regulation it deserves. If the industry had done more around effective disclosure earlier we might still have commission today.”
But he said a positive result of RDR is a rising standard of professionalism within the sector, adding: “I think this is reflected in the financial advice press. A number of years ago there was a lot of tittle-tattle, but what I read tends to be something more informative and technical. We have finally got financial advice to be a profession. People are hiring graduates and appointing apprentices, as is the case with CII deputy chairman John Moore in Swansea.”
But if advisers have had to pull their socks up, Mr Fletcher is concerned that a consistent standard of advice should apply across the financial services sector.
In the long term Mr Fletcher thinks RDR will be seen as the foundation stone that drove change in the way that advisers operate, while their firms will be better capitalised than previously – both reassuring features for consumers.
He also said that consumers’ use of financial services will change in a way which may obviate the doomsday scenario of advisers for the rich and money supermarkets at best for everyone else. He said: “People will still want to speak with someone to ensure they are doing the right thing. However, if they need life cover, why should people not be able to buy that after taking in some information?”