Simoney Kyriakou 

Sympathy for the devil?

Simoney Kyriakou

Simoney Kyriakou

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about advisers seeking ways to phoenix in order to get a 'clean sheet' for the purposes of cheaper professional indemnity insurance (PII).

At the time, those I approached for comment expressed sympathy at the plight of smaller firms, who have found their PII premiums skyrocket as a result of the pernicious claims culture, the lack of a long stop and the Damoclean sword of defined benefit transfer advice coming back to hurt them in the future.

Nobody advocated deliberately closing up shop - even if the firm has no outstanding or known debts or poor advice on its books - only to relocate or relaunch elsewhere.

But there was a feeling that those who have opted for this route have exhausted all other measures as a means of protecting themselves and the many good clients who are happy with the advice and service they have received.

Whether this article raised eyebrows at the regulators I know not; I do know the Financial Conduct Authority and the Insolvency Service have for several months been working on a deal to prevent firms from phoenixing, with promises of tougher measures against directors of financial firms who phoenix to escape potential liabilities.

And, just last week, insurance professionals warned that any advice firms found to have phoenixed to avoid any potential liabilities in relation to defined benefit transfer advice may be refused indemnity cover. Without this, they simply cannot function in this highly regulated financial services market. 

Well and good - no financial advice firm wants to have ever-increasing levies imposed upon them by the FCA or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to mitigate the effect of bad firms fleeing their liabilities and dumping the problem on the rest of the industry.

Yet when I read stories such as the one last week where advice given 29 years ago - before some of the people on our staff were born - has come back to haunt an adviser I can't help but have sympathy, as the Rolling Stones would say, for the devil. 

If PII can't protect a retired IFA from a complaint that would have been time-barred in any other industry, then what will?

Well, one thing might - as a reader styling himself 'Old Nick' wrote on my story back in August: "As everyone in our profession knows (apart from the myopic FCA), the blindingly obvious solution is to have a long stop. It really is that simple."

It really is. 

Simoney Kyriakou is deputy editor of FTAdviser