The financial services industry can learn a thing or two about trust, forgiveness and reconciliation from the departed Nelson Mandela, argues Phil Billingham…
This was going to be an article about setting plans in place for 2014, offering some tips and hints, which is all perfectly sensible at this time of the year.
Then, at 9.55pm on my Twitter feed as I was drafting this, news of the death of Nelson Mandela overwhelmed us all. Will you remember where you were when you heard the news?
As I read the outpouring of grief and tributes, I wondered about the legacy Mandela leaves behind - forgiveness, reconciliation, a focus on the future - and what it could mean for us.
Thinking about it gave me cause to consider the relationship between advisers, parts of the media and regulators, which seems to have descended into an increasingly toxic one.
Trust and ethics are meant to be the new watchwords, but they are set by the culture and example of those who would lead, and the examples are poor. As IFAs, we are encouraged to be ethical, and so we should be. It's a hygiene factor, a given.
But is it ethical for the FSCS to include a product administrator in advisers' levies when the FSA clearly said it was not an intermediary? Is it ethical for the FSA to overcharge IFAs by £118m and not make any attempt to offer some form of restitution?
Is it ethical for the Daily Telegraph to campaign for lower costs on funds distributed through IFAs, but also be a tied introducer to St James's Place, a firm that sells high-cost funds?
Is it ethical for the Money Advice Service to take advisers' not-so-voluntary contributions and spend it on excessive salaries, all while publishing misleading advice (since corrected by the FCA) on how consumers should complain against us?
And so the mood music is set. We resent those who use their ‘bully pulpits' to endlessly advance their own commercial interests at our expense. Anyone who does not think there is a deep well of bitterness among IFAs does not read the blogs or get along to regional events.
More worryingly, the resentment breeds distrust. For example, I have had it explained to me at great length, in emotional language and on a number of occasions, that, whatever the FCA says about being independent, one cannot entirely trust it and so it is therefore safer to be restricted. It is safer, some say, to be in a network because you can't trust the regulator.
In reality, ‘restricted' and ‘in a network' may be the best option for some firms, but is it right to make choices from fear rather than what's right for our firms and clients? I completely accept I may have been as guilty as any of us in this emotional response.
Perhaps we need the equivalent of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a forum to draw a line under the collective sins - be they real, imagined or otherwise - of the past, and to find a way to move forward together? We need some real dialogue here.
If this all sounds a little self-indulgent and a bit like washing the dirty linen in public, perhaps we could get some form of roundtable discussion in place? We must be able to do something.
The time feels right. This year is very nearly history and the ‘Big Bang' of RDR a year ago, and we have seen few, if any, of the cataclysmic failures so enthusiastically predicted by the ‘doomsayers'. We are nine months into the new regulatory regime, which seems to genuinely want to be different to the last one.
In short, look around. Those that are with us now are going to be with us for a while.
I'm up for a fresh start and a clean sheet in 2014. Is anyone with me?
Phil Billingham is director of Perceptive Planning and a specialist in assisting advisers and planning firms during periods of regulatory change. He grew up in South Africa under the apartheid regime.
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