So I just had a good chat with the entirely excellent Jun at Citywire about the FSA’s concerns on single platform usage, conflicts of interest, nasty letters and all that kind of thing.
Also today, I read about FundsNetwork reanimating their Â£50/Â£100 bung for IFAs putting ISA cases onto their platform. And I’ve been hearing more and more about the penalty clauses and volume commitments some platforms have been extracting from distributors for their strategic deals.
Here’s what gets me. Most IFAs I know would no more put a client into something unsuitable than fly to the moon or try to avoid paying the VAT on a pasty. Actually, scratch that, they probably would buy the pasty cold and heat it up at the office.
But the industry is girding its loins to get into an almighty stramash about independence when the FSA platform paper comes out this week, next week, next month or whenever. And this stramash will be seized on by all kinds of folk as being about Platform A being 6 basis points – that’s 0.06%, sports fans – more than Platform B down the street. It’ll be spun that adviser firms who do their best by clients, every day, and deal with mainstream needs by using mainstream propositions, need to re-engineer their businesses from the ground up, lest their knackers suffer for it.
At the same time we have certain unnamed platforms putting penalty clauses in place that, if they were ever exercised, would probably bust the distributor firm or network. As a result, the firm necessarily has to stick its advisers’ arms up behind their backs to shovel AUA on as quickly as possible. No doubt there will be some CYA about client suitability, but the message will be clear.Â Make the targets, or your ass is grass and we are the lawnmower.
We also hear about other platforms further down the foodchain paying to play with certain large distributors. Incredibly, a Â£400k ‘marketing package’ for one network has been doing the rounds, and has had at least one taker. What kind of pressure will there be for clients to be shoehorned onto that platform?
If we want to look at where the genuine red risks for clients are, this is where we need to spend our time. Not in trying to parse the charging structures of two largely identical propositions. Not in hammering smaller distributors genuinely trying to do the right thing.
Back in the day, I left a sales job for a lifeco because I reckoned if I did what I was asked (selling highly risky structured products to the unwary) I’d pretty soon end up in the Bar-L (ask a Scot if you don’t know what that is). I was lucky – at that time there were plenty of jobs and other places to go and ply my trade. Pity the guys coming through the ranks at the advisory firms hooked into these deals – these days it ain’t so easy to find another gig.
I’ve said it before on these pages – in this part of the industry we have the chance to build something better, and many people are trying to. Every step towards the kind of structures above is a retrograde one, and takes us right back to where we were. It’s just such a terrible, terrible waste.