Julie Henderson, editor of IFAonline, talks to Bob Bullivant, executive chairman of the Personal Finance Society, and discovers the new professional body plans to talk tough in its media campaign.
The Personal Finance Society was launched on January 1st, following the successful vote to merge the Life Insurance Association and the Society of Financial Advisers.
Creating any new professional body would be a tall order, so merging two giants in the form of the LIA and Sofa will take a lot of planning from staff at the Personal Finance Society to get the new support service off the board and a media campaign which catches the eye of the consumer.
So far, the merger of two very different professional organisations has gone smoothly, says Bob Bullivant, executive chairman at the PFS, even though there are different levels of the merger and critics to contend with.
“The merger of the databases is now done so we can communicate to the membership. But there is no doubt the vast majority of people want to see this [society] work and I think people are only just beginning to understand the ‘quantum leap’ we can make, in terms of the way this business can be judged by having proper measure of this society and this body.
“There are always going to be a small minority who will not agree with what we do. Our response is we are a democratic organisation, and we hope to win them over in time through action rather than words. The vast majority of people are really enthusiastic about PFS,” continues Bullivant.
“Having managed the database, we are now in a position to put designations into place. The quantum leap is to have one set of designations that reflect the national qualifications framework. But whoever we speak to – membership, government, regulators and journalists – they are excited by the prospect the consumer can receive a clear message there is a recognised level of adviser they can turn to.”
Since gaining agreement for the merger last October, officials at the LIA and Sofa has been working hard behind the scenes to compile data on IFA designations – the labels which explains to clients what qualifications the intermediary holds - and to begin marketing the new society.
This week, advisers should receive correspondence from the PFS detailing the designation or qualification status they will hold, ahead of the PFS’ marketing campaign to consumers and the media.
“Next week, members will receive a pack of information about common members information and services, a membership card, and a letter which members must sign, acknowledging their designation,” says Bullivant.
“Members have been given detailed guidance on logos, etc for new business cards. Without exception, the board are totally committed to the development of standards and qualifications and they all share the same vision.
“And the objective of the PFS message to the consumer is simple: unless the adviser has a PFS certificate on the wall, the client won’t speak to them, because of the standards recognised in terms of competence and qualifications associated with the PFS.”
At face value, such bullish language from the PFS appears to be designed to set up the new society to go head-to-head with the Institute of Financial Planning, which has in recent years sought to build its presence, reputation and the promotion of the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) through the national media.
Not only has the PFS developed a marketing line which challenges recognition of any professional adviser body but the Personal Finance Society, it also ruffled a few feathers when the society unveiled a series of its examinations as Certificates in Financial Planning – again challenging the recognition of the CFP accreditation.
That said, the PFS has already received a major boost to its marketing campaign, as the Universities Superannuation [occupational pension] Scheme – which is one of the biggest occupational schemes in the UK - has suggested its members only use PFS advisers when seeking financial guidance.
“Quantum leap is the right term to describe the creation of the PFS. The USS pension scheme [and its call for members to use PFS advisers] is evidence level of competence in the membership is important. We are consulting members and they have been asked how they would like their meetings to be run, for example. We have had a massive response, running into thousands of responses. It has given us some very clear messages about how to go about developing the PFS.”
Members have already seen some of the reforms and benefits to be had from the enlarged group. First edition of the new magazine was launched earlier this month, and feedback suggests the content matches the needs of both generic and specialist advisers.
“There are always ways we do better to improve the magazine after the first edition, but this is what people want because we dealt with a mixture of complex issues such as POAT alongside an article on pension planning, says Bullivant.
“Because the PFS is so big, we can afford to run a magazine which gives different things to different members that we will then develop over the months. Membership communication will cover everything to from examination support, magazines, technical briefings. Members will tell us what they like and don’t, and the key thing is to keep listening. But people are very positive in general.”
Additional feedback already suggests members would like to see regional meetings spend at least 60% of the time dealing with technical matters, relating to product development and tax management.
In order to support the needs of members, the PFS is also developing two new support systems - the Faculty of Financial Planning and the Faculty of Corporate Planning – so members who wish to practise in these highly specialist areas have special interest and business development support to refer to.
And managing varying levels of membership knowledge and requirements is of course going to be one of the largest parts of the PFS’ role over the next 6-12 months, as the society aims to target all levels of adviser, from the basic advice intermediary to the financial planner.
“We have to be careful that we don’t suggest commission is bad and fee is good, or financial planning is good and everything else is bad. There is a very broad church of advice now available, which will soon include basic advice. The vast majority of the population need advice but not everyone can afford full financial planning or necessarily want it,” says Bullivant.
“We have to consider what the consumer wants too. For those [intermediaries] who want to move to the financial planning method of business, we will give them as much guidance as possible. It is equally important that someone starting out as a basic adviser also joins the PFS membership, because they are tomorrow’s financial planners. The cream will always rise to the surface, and we want people to have a career.
“The next 6-12 months will be about getting the events programme right and starting to get the message out to consumers: “unless the PFS certificate is on the wall, don’t speak to the adviser”.
“It’s about talking to and communicating with the membership to understand what they want and help them to achieve their potential. That doesn’t mean we want everyone to do 10 CFPs, but achieve their own competence as they want it. The designations follow the national qualifications framework so if they are FPC they have similar designation under the new regime. It means the membership will have receive a designation which reflects their level in that framework. It removes the objections about the ‘alphabet spaghetti’ and means we can deliver a message to the press as to what standards people have,” adds Bullivant.IFAonline
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