The final, at least for the foreseeable future, gripping instalment of FSATV
Right then ' if I might first be allowed to acknowledge everybody, or perhaps more accurately anybody, who may still be along on the ride after the last two installments of my FSATV trilogy. You have been very brave. I promised this would be the final part of the saga, at least for the time being, and so it shall be ' although on the off chance a few lost souls may be stumbling on board for the first time, perhaps I should quickly recap.
Here goes ' the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet has a secret camera installed in a meeting room at the Financial Services Authority's headquarters.
He, the managing director and I are watching a discussion between a lady, two men in suits and a casually-dressed man with a beard. There, now that wasn't too painful, was it?
'On the whole I think this consultation document is excellent,' the lady was saying. 'There are just one or two small areas that need a little tweaking.'
'Like what?' asked Suit One. 'Like the title, for example,' she replied. 'I just think calling it 'IFAs ' what are they good for?' might be seen as a little confrontational. Something neutral along the lines of 'Review of medium and long-term retail savings' might be a better idea.'
'You're the boss,' shrugged Suit One. 'What else?' 'Wellllll,' prevaricated the lady in a manner that suggested there was quite a lot of 'else' to choose from. 'You just seem to be being a bit hard on the poor little independent financial adviser all the way through.' 'But you said ...' spluttered Suit Two.
'I know very well what I said,' the lady answered firmly.
'But it's more a question of nuance and tone. So rather than you saying 'IFAs only care about their profits not the clients,' I would go for 'Is increasing revenue the key business issue for IFAs rather than reducing costs?' Also, where you say 'Are IFAs stupid?,' I'd suggest 'Is the current standard of advisers' knowledge about investment issues sufficient?'
'And I really think that 'What are the consequences of different products having distinctly different levels of profitability for their distributors?' is slightly more tactful than your 'How easily can you bribe an IFA?' And another thing ' you haven't touched on direct selling at all. There should be questions along the lines of 'Why has direct selling on a large scale not occurred?''
'But we know very well why direct selling on a large scale hasn't occurred,' said Suit One. 'It's because the informed punter isn't too keen on choosing from a selection of one provider on the off chance it might be vaguely appropriate for their needs. I'm sure our chums in the banks and life offices ' barring those Equitable swines ' wouldn't want us putting that in. Anyway ' I thought that's why we were taking another look at dear old polarisation.'
'You know ' I can't help feeling you boys have missed the point on all this,' said the lady. 'Do you know how many IFAs actually bothered to reply to our polarisation review.' Silence. 'Well I'd better tell you then. It was nine. Nuh ... ine. Of course we don't have to be nice to IFAs but it just looks so much better if we aren't actually rude. That might inspire some amount of sympathy among the people who really will respond. So we pitch everything in a beautifully neutral way and then ...'
'Do what we always do,' chorused Suits One and Two in unison. 'Exactly what we were going to anyway.' The bearded man still didn't utter a word. 'We hear you loud and clear,' the besuited pair continued. 'And we promise the final draft will be the most IFA-friendly thing we've ever produced.'
'Steady on, boys,' said the lady as she stood up and walked out of the room. 'I never said we had to go that far now, did I?'
'Absolutely fascinating,' I said, finishing the last of my popcorn and getting up to leave myself.
'Thank you so much for letting me in on that. I learned so much ' not least the interesting taste in casual knitwear sported by the strangely-silent Mr Sandler.' The chairman looked at me strangely. 'What ever are you talking about?' he said. 'That bearded chap wasn't Ron Sandler.'
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