Yesterday, I was scrutinising some interesting data from Matrix Data, and attempting to make sense of it. The section that intrigued me was the table summarising the Top Fifteen national intermediary firms and Networks, by size.
The first thing to note was that ValidPath was not
on that list. Not that numerical size has ever been something that has mattered to us, as Members, friends and colleagues will know. As far as I could judge, we would have scraped in at number 16, but the point is that the list itself was subject to the usual kinds of anomalies that one almost expects these days. One was that it included St. James' Place, a kind of hybrid entity that didn't seem to fit very comfortably into the overall category.
There were also some anomalies which result purely from the passage of time, and the kind of relentless M&A activity which appears to characterise our marketplace. This would have merged two names on the list, and very probably removed another one - so, all things being equal, ValidPath could well be there.
Now, here was what really
interested me. Out of that Top Fifteen list, only one
company had chosen to nail its colours to the independent advice
mast. Of the rest, some had never made a pretence of independence and the others had all used the RDR as the perfect excuse to abandon their independent stance. One Network, previously operating in the independent space, would find itself restricted as it was purchased by another one which had already opted for that model. I was left wondering how this change would be sold to clients as a 'benefit': no doubt the masters of spin would be hard at work, implementing their dark arts.
One is left marvelling at this continual change, the oscillating between models, the attempts to ambiguify reality ("whole of market"), the impact upon clients as (no doubt) they find themselves experiencing new restrictions, or find themselves under pressure to move everything onto some new platform. The restricted model provides incentives for churning which I suspect the FCA have only begun to appreciate. An adviser with one of the Top 15 told me earlier this week that his Network send him incentivising emails every week, targeting him on product sales and promising various rewards for success. It begins to sound to me as if the excesses of the 1980's are back with a vengeance. I remember the 1980's: the branch targets, the awards, the pressures, the 'sales aids', the 'conventions' in Rhodes...It is somewhat perverse that the RDR appears to be facilitating a return to a model of advice that we had genuinely hoped was dead and buried.
There is nothing in any of this which can be identified as explicitly benefiting the client. I for one am grateful for the clarity of vision provided by our commitment to independence. I do not, for one moment, consider it in any way "the easy option", but it is honest, transparent, unambiguous and entirely client-centred.