James Coney  

Industry needs to shape up on advice

James Coney

James Coney

There is a lot of hostility around the idea that restricted advice is somehow the poorer cousin of independent.

Every time I write about the subject I get a barrage of emails and tweets from restricted advisers telling me it is time to move on from this debate and instead talk about client outcomes.

But here is a poser: if the two are the same, why are so many restricted companies so reluctant to just say what they are?

I have just been involved in a month-long exercise to figure out the fees, charges and services of the biggest advice companies in the country.

What should have been relatively straightforward, looking at a few websites, turned into a mammoth task cutting through obfuscation and – at times – downright misleading information.

Through it all, many restricted companies pretended they were not, using the words ‘independent’, ‘financial adviser’ and ‘independently tied’ in ways that steered as far round the term ‘restricted’ as possible.

Even when challenged, companies seemed to weave round the issue. For example, one bank said its investment management service was “restricted”, but clarified this was purely in the sense it could only provide advice on investment management, as opposed to other areas. 

The bank said that as part of building bespoke portfolios, its experts could give “unbiased advice” on a wide range of providers, but under Financial Conduct Authority rules it was classed as restricted. 

What a muddle

It really should not be so difficult to cut through all this.

Some companies say the reason for the lack of transparency is because they advise only on high-net-worth customers, and their advice needs to be so bespoke it was impossible to compare prices.

But that assumes the wealthy do not care about cost – which I cannot believe for a second – and that they have the time to go through hours of assessments before choosing the right adviser – which, also, I do not believe.

Without knowing what service you are going to get, and with poor information on cost, there is no way of establishing whether you are getting value.

And it is much more than that, because the regulators and ministers (when we get new ones) are watching.

Britain has a chronic advice gap, we all know that. There is willingness to solve it.

If those in positions of power believe advice companies are being wilfully obscure – and I think some are – then the only answer will be greater regulation. No-one wants that.

Pension tax overhaul

The Conservatives have tried to apply a sticking plaster to the emergency that has become the NHS pensions crisis.

They have effectively kicked the bedpan down the street a few more years, promising that consultants will have any pensions reduction made up for in later years by the Treasury.