When is the deadline day for FAMR?

Last week I was invited to sit on the panel for a debate about the Financial Advice Market Review (FAMR). The panel was an interesting group of eminent industry people and me! (I quipped on Twitter before that I was the only one that I had not heard of.)

In the run-up to the event I thought a bit more about this. I spend a lot of time dealing with financial advisers, I am lucky enough to sometimes get to speak to groups of the public on pensions and retirement issues, and I have been in this industry for more years than I would care to admit to – and do you know what? I am starting to get more opinionated as I get older!

Like it or not, the RDR came and went and it had a big effect on our industry. I can’t help but think that having a known deadline (31 December 2012) helped to focus the time and effort involved in getting there – would it not make sense to set a reasonable but definable deadline for FAMR?

This article can only be a summary of some of the issues raised in the FCA report, many of which were discussed at the debate.

As with the actual FCA report, it is perhaps best to divide discussion into three headings – Affordability, Accessibility and Liability/Consumer redress (although, in a number of areas the subject matter is intertwined).

In my opinion the RDR did bring in a known level of professional qualification which, prima facie, was a good thing. The other side of the coin was that a lot of older advisers took their chance to retire/sell up. So, as predicted, we have fewer advisers than we did have prior to 2013.

With a higher level of qualification and the need to create viable business models, we have seen a move away from an intermediation of products, to an advisory and planning model based on the provision of advice as the product, and the advice being based on a holistic view of the client’s circumstances.This move has also been precipitated by concerns about liability and consumer redress, and the need to make sure that any advice which forms part of a financial plan is given on the basis that it cannot be taken out of context, and therefore cause some liability.

There is no doubt that the possibility of ‘unforeseen’ liability is on the minds of many of the advisers that I talk to. They give advice and it is implemented, yet years later the FOS takes a view of what has happened and puts the liability at the door of the adviser. The FAMR does recommend developing the role of the Ombudsman with a view to transparency and visibility of the decision-making process. There is also commitment to a review of the FSCS levy, possibly utilising a risk-based approach and also looking at the PI market for smaller firms.

The whole liability thing has a knock-on effect under another heading – ‘affordability’. Many advisers factor in a payment for future liability and costs and, as a result, many potential customers feel that financial planning and advice is too expensive.

When you talk to a lot of advisers there is not too much wrong with the world – they offer a product at a price and they have all the demand they can cope with!

For me the problem exists under the other two headings – perceived affordability and accessibility from the demand side (the consumer).

The first and most important question to answer is whether people understand what financial planning is, what benefits it can bring and, if so, how much they are prepared to pay for such advice? The FAMR suggests a number of external initiatives, from nudges and information sheets, to simplified suitability reports, the ubiquitous ‘pension dashboard’ and even the ability to cash in a small amount of fund each year to pay for advice (£500).

If there is a gap between demand and supply, could there be opportunities to offer a new service or a new version (lower cost) of the full advice service to fill the gap? Could we have ‘robo’ advice to assist in information gathering or even look at changing definitions? For example, we have had talk of focussed advice, simplified advice and even changing the definition of regulated advice itself alongside this continued work on guidance.

For me guidance is all well and good (and a good read on any subject before doing anything is always important and easy to achieve in this internet-ready world), but guidance means taking your own responsibility for accuracy and if anything goes wrong. So guidance should then ‘nudge’ to the concept of paid advice, as with this comes some liability, objectivity and professionalism.

I think FAMR is a good thing, but that it perhaps needs a few guiding principles:

  • Let’s make sure we do not damage what we have.
  • The use of technology could be key in bringing down costs.
  • A hard win would seem to be achieving clarity around the FOS and how it reaches decisions – let’s not shy away from addressing hard subjects.
  • Whatever we do, let’s make sure we focus from the demand side not just the supply side – we must keep consumers in the loop.
  • Finally, like RDR, a key date of implementation/completion would assist in focussing the mind.

The FAMR will run on with the various consultation strands and I am sure it will be a subject to keep an eye on.

Head of Platform Technical

Mike Morrison has worked in financial services for far too many years. In 1990 he joined Winterthur (now AXAWealth) as Technical Manager, playing an instrumental role in the development of their SIPP product and later their pioneering work on income drawdown.

Mike is an ex Chairman of AMPS (the Association of Member Directed Pension Schemes) and is on the Financial Planning Committee of the ICAEW. He is also an Associate of the Pensions Management Institute and the Chartered Insurance Institute, and he holds both an LLB and an LLM in European Law.

An accomplished speaker and writer on financial services matters, Mike is passionate about retirement and savings issues, and how we can better communicate these to a wider audience.