The year is ebbing away as I write this; Hogmanay is upon us and the fortified wine is running low. But before I go to sleep and prepare myself for tonight’s festivities, it’s time for our round-up of 2017. This is the sister blog to the lang cat’s albums of 2017, which I commend to your attention.
I like writing things like this; not because they’re easy (although they are) but because they force me to think about what was important last year. 2017 was a year which, I think, taught us to concentrate on what really matters, and that’s the human face of the industry in which we work. Some of you call it a profession; that’s certainly different. In spelling.
A couple of things spring to mind. First, I’ve been banging on a bit this year about why traditional adviser practices such as being a total bastard to suppliers and providers remains crucial. My point is that if providers sense that you’re not looking at what they do – because you buy the a-plague-on-all-your-houses view that everything is much of a muchness – then you are asking for all sorts of unpleasantness buried far under the hood.
Every time someone tells you that products don’t matter and that the only value is in financial planning – just look at the total barrage of unutterable shite that the British Steel pensioners have been recommended. God love Al Rush and the Op CHIVE advisers for punching a hole in this particular wall of muck. Here’s an example of where the sector isn’t just about making rich people very slightly richer. It reminds me of what I always wanted to do with the lang cat – hold those who affect individual outcomes to account (let’s see that on a t-shirt, eh comrades?) – and encourages me to make us bolder in 2018.
The other thing that springs to mind is the untimely death of my friend Mike Morrison, latterly of AJ Bell. Mike died too young, too sudden, with a too-new family and much work left to do. We all miss him and are poorer for his passing. I will raise a glass to him tonight; but I will also raise one to his most recent employer, AJ Bell, who (without going into details) has been wonderful, especially for Mike’s young daughter. If we have this spirit in the industry, then there is nothing we can’t accomplish.
And we’ll need that spirit. This year, prep for MiFID II: MiFID Harder took much of our attention, and if you thought that was fun, then GDPR will make your socks LITERALLY FLY OFF. It all adds up to – well, an enormous bucket of bollocks, to be honest. But it also highlights that this environment will suit those who are smart and adaptable. Not in a giving advice sense – that core skill remains as persistent and crucial as ever – but in a running-your-business and control sense. Some think that only large firms can navigate this stuff; I disagree.
2017 was also the year that vertical integration hit terminal velocity, whatever that is. Whether it’s Standard Life’s 1825 or Intrinsic or AFH or any of the others, we now have a sector which is looking to recreate the structures of the past. Which would be cool if it benefitted clients. The popular wisdom is that it doesn’t – but this might be cheap and easy sloganeering. We plan to take a look in 2018. It might be unpleasant.
I was pleased to see platforms start to trim their prices in 2017. Transact kept its Superman 3-style salami slicing going, and we had a big move from new entrants Embark, who hit it at 0.15% for an ISA. That’s proper low for percentage-based stuff. Embark doesn’t have all the kit yet, but it will, and when it does you’ll have lots to think about.
I was also pleased to see the Aegon/Cofunds integration get off to a good start. This isn’t a replatforming in the traditional sense (the Aegon lads will try and tell you it isn’t one at all, but don’t listen). Rather, it’s a migration. If replatforming is changing the engine in a car while you’re driving it, migration is doing a sort of Tom Cruise leaping-between-speeding-vehicles kind of thing, except much more dull. Neither is easy, but while one is utterly heinous, the other can be achieved with a few tens of millions, a green screen and a small Scientologist.
There’s loads more, of course there is. But we head into 2018 with lots to play for. Many people need advice. Pension freedoms aren’t going away. DB transfers will be problematic. The FCA’s Platform Market Study will publish interim findings and will cause some major headaches. We plan to pre-empt much of that if we can and help anyone who’ll listen work out what to do next.
And for us? We have come a long way since I started in a box-room in a friend’s office (which we called the ‘gimp cave’) and we now give a home to 14 malcontents. A friend of ours called us the ‘Devil’s Rejects of financial services’ and we quite like that. We now publish regular insight into the platform sector and we plan to extend this in 2018. Our PR and comms side continues to go from strength to strength under the bloodshot gaze of Mark Locke and we will keep growing this. If you need representation which knows one end of an adviser or a mutual fund from the other and which charges you Embra rates rather than London rates, get in touch. (#ad)
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Finally, as ever, a personal note from me to say thanks to all the felines. I know I’m far from a treat. Thanks to all our clients. We never forget we have no right to be here and we hope the work speaks for itself. And thanks to everyone who reads my/our stuff and says hi from time to time. It means more than you’d imagine from our supercool exteriors.
With that, it’s out with 2017 and in with 2018. I hope it brings you what you want, and what you need, and not what you deserve.
the lang cat