Nic Cicutti: When did advisers lose their political mojo?

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One of the more interesting things about the internet is that it encourages promiscuity. By that I don’t mean a desire to swap sexual partners but the tendency on the part of information-hungry citizens to forage more widely for the intelligence they need.

For regular Money Marketing readers, loyal as they undoubtedly are to this paper and website, it implies a willingness to interact with each other not just in its news and features pages but on other forums and sites.

That is what makes the internet such a brilliant tool, updating and cross-pollinating continually, allowing for a far wider interaction between IFAs, who flit from one site to another to debate and discuss.

Which is why I hope the editor of Money Marketing won’t mind me mentioning a blog by Daniel Grote on a rival website about the problems the adviser community has in lobbying politicians. 

Grote recently wrote a brief article mentioning he had met Reading-based IFA Clive Smith in the House of Parliament in relation to the IFA Centre’s briefing of MPs over the Arch cru debacle.

Smith, for those who are unaware, was president of the LIA in the mid-90s, when the trade body had an enviable reputation as an influencer of MPs and regulators, largely thanks to the efforts of its sadly-departed public affairs head John Ellis.

Back then, he told Grote, he spent a goodly proportion of his time “in the corridors of Westminster” talking up the profession and giving Members of Parliament chapter and verse about the LIA’s views.

Today, all that appears to have changed. Grote quoted the IFA Centre’s managing director Gill Cardy as speaking openly “of the difficulties she has encountered in building up membership of her fledgling organisation. Without financial support from advisers, effective lobbying on their behalf is impossible”.

Across London in Throgmorton Street, the new Association of Professional Financial Advisers does not so far appear to have resurrected its fortunes by opening its doors to all and sundry in the wake of its membership review last year.

I recently had coffee with an MP who has long had an association with financial issues. I’ve known this person since the early 1990s and he retains a strong interest in personal finance matters, talks knowledgeably about the RDR and independent advice, which he remains strongly supportive of “conceptually” – that’s his word by the way.

He remembers being lobbied by the LIA and also meeting representatives from Nfifa back in the day when they too sought to influence MPs. Today, however, he says he simply wouldn’t bother. Nor, he says, would most of his Commons contemporaries who, like him, retain some interest in the world of finance.

In fairness, this may be as much because the political priorities of this MP and his colleagues have changed over the years. But it also reflects, in the opinion of my contact at least, a disenchantment on the part of legislators with IFAs whom they feel have not lived up to expectations of their role in society.

By that, my informant does not mean to infer IFAs do a bad job on behalf of their clients. No, what concerns this MP is that once upon a time he saw IFAs as a potential bulwark against the depredations of banks and life company salespeople against consumers. IFAs, he hoped, would speak with one voice in support of a financially bruised and battered public, acting as their champions.

But over the years he has come to realise that IFAs’ own ambitions with respect to their clients and the industry generally are far more meagre and less ambitious. When it comes to lobbying, the interests they represent are primarily their own and not the wider community. In turn, this MP has lost interest in hearing what IFAs have to say.

OK, so these were just one MP’s views and maybe they were not representative of his peers. But somehow I can’t help feeling that they did reflect something more than disillusionment after decades as an MP, constantly bombarded by lobbyists of all stripes and persuasions.

And it also occurs to me that back then, what shone through in the lobbying efforts of people like John Ellis was an attempt to constantly align the interests of the LIA with those of the wider public – for example in his long-cherished commitment to greater professionalism for IFAs, including compulsory examinations for the industry.

Until IFAs and their current representatives can demonstrate similar alignment on issues relevant to consumers today, I fear the absence of advisers from the wider debate about finance and the relegation of their views to trade-only websites and forums will continue.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk