I have found over the years, that I am, constitutionally, not a natural optimist. Instinctively, I am always looking for the pitfalls, for the next big problem, which may be just around the corner. It is now almost impossible for me to listen to product-providers, without running a kind of continuous "What if?" mantra through my mind, as if on a loop system. I cannot read FCA consultations, or final guidance without applying an obsessive degree of textual criticism to what I am reading, primarily because consistent past experience has taught me not to take things at face value, and I tend to be suspicious of the sheer amount of questionable presuppositional baggage which sits behind those regulatory initiatives which are ultimately so unhelpful to consumers and advisers.
Now, you may be tempted to say, "C'mon Kevin, lighten up a bit" and you'd have a valid point. But actually, when you think about it, this kind of mindset is actually quite appropriate for someone who has set out to create and run a Network, where the objective is to maintain, as far as possible, a stable operating environment, one where the risks to all (Members and Clients) are minimised. If I am not a 'natural' optimist, then presumably God made me that way for a purpose.
But given that mental framework, how does one set out to plan for the future, with any kind of positive view ahead? Well, it is certainly the case, that 'being optimistic' has to be an intentional thing: I choose
to be optimistic about what we are doing, about the values we bring to the table when supporting our IFAs, and certainly in terms of continually refining the advisory proposition so that it delivers improving outcomes for both advisers and clients. Intentionality, however, is not the same thing as 'mindless optimism', the Life-of-Brian 'Always look on the bright side of life' type of mantra, which rests on nothing more substantial than a cheery tune that you can whistle along to.
Intentionality is, to some extent, pragmatic. It recognises that there are a whole bundle of powerful forces out there, all of which have the capacity to undermine or even derail our best efforts on behalf of our Members. The FCA's own activities have been shown to have a profoundly negative impact upon the viability of our sector, as evidenced by the catastrophic deterioration in PII terms generally available in the UK (which, apparently, have precisely zero correlation with our own claims experience) - but businesses such as ours become past-masters in the art of adaptation, and we find ways of navigating through choppy waters. Intentionality has its focus on the value and 'rightness' of what we are seeking to achieve. We keep in clear view a set of good objectives, and seek to apply only excellent values - and these things give intentionality a real integrity.
2013 was a challenging year, and there are lessons there for all of us. So far, and only a few days into 2014, it looks as if there'll be no sitting on our laurels this year either. There's the MMR to implement. There's the new guidance on NMPIs to take on board. There's the prospect of a significant hike in FCA and FSCS fees and levies. ValidPath are re-engineering our frameworks to better support genuinely independent advice, and to help contextualise the compliance guidance where it is needed.