It is three and a half years since I last rocked up to a meeting of the Cellar Club. Far too long.
The Cellar Club, sadly, is a rare breed these days. It is a select group of financial advisers and planners who meet over dinner most months of the year.
They exchange gripes – about the regulator, Financial Ombudsman Service, rogues and the almighty might of St James’s Place plc.
They chew a bit of financial cud (and in the process some mighty fine food) and listen to some expert sing for their proverbial supper (strangely, you might feel, that is where I come in).
All somewhat agreeable and every one of the club’s members goes home happy, feeling a little less isolated and a lot more loved than when they pitched up beforehand. Therapeutic. Strength in numbers.
The Cellar Club, based in Birmingham, is one of the few informal adviser groups that keeps going. Others have sadly withered on the vine through lack of support and dwindling adviser numbers.
Amazingly, the club, founded by Paul Etheridge (of Prestwood software fame) and Alan Smith (ex Aston & Partners), is now 44 years young. Under the astute leadership of Mark Rogers (part of the Succession Group), it seems as if it could keep going for a lot longer.
Yes, it highlights some of the problems that are impacting upon the adviser community. For example, too little young talent coming through the adviser ranks and a lack of female representation.
But the Cellar Club is a force for good. We estimated somewhat crudely that the 18 individuals sitting around the table (16 if you discount myself and the organiser of the dinner) manage clients’ assets in excess of £5bn.
A lot of long-term wealth being managed with care and attention. Not an exotic or toxic investment in sight.
Over the years, I have accepted numerous invitations to speak at the club. It has never been an easy experience given some of the criticism I have heaped the industry’s way.
But the more times I have bared my soul before them, and the more the adviser sector has moulded itself into a professional unit, a mutual respect has formed.
The members of the club value my fourth estate views, but challenge me all the way. In return, I get the opportunity to learn of the issues they are facing at the proverbial coal face.
Some may say that I am going soft and have mellowed in my 50s. But that is not the case. It is just that the adviser industry is a far cry from the one I observed in the 1990s and early 2000s when commission ruled the roost.
What I love about going to the Cellar Club is that spades are called spades. Indeed I would argue that some of its members are more critical of their own industry than acerbic financial commentators.