Narrative incoherence - mind the gap! 

This is probably indicative of my age, or narrowing of the arteries, or something like it, but the temptation to chuck a brick through the television screen is not getting any easier with the passage of time.  This is not merely a function of prejudice against the kinds of pathological obsessions with triviality which seem to define our age.  No, I am thinking instead of the sheer incoherence of the incontinent outpourings from the superfluity of media pundits, who flounce about on TV, presumably for their own entertainment.

News stories apparently come out of nowhere, arising spontaneously without logical precursors.  For days, depending upon the resonance with the media's current ideology, the same thing will be repeated ad-nauseam.  And then, the whole thing will be gone.  We won't be left any wiser, merely more perplexed and anxious.  Swiftly, we are moved  onto some other temporary distraction, the outcome of which will be similarly mystifying.  The entire Brexit fiasco seems to have been treated in this way, leaving the population in the grip of rage, despair and cynicism, but certainly not informed in any meaningful way.  We seem to be coaching ourselves into the belief that there is actually no rational explanation for anything.  The very term 'Fake News' appears to imply that there is an alternative, but there is relatively little evidence that such a thing does actually exist.

The media appear not to be the solution here.  The very way they operate now creates a culture of incoherent narratives, where nothing matches up, little seems to relate to little else, and where our conclusions, responses and value-judgements are frequently equally incoherent.

And so, wearily, I return to what has become an abiding preoccupation - the mysterious, operational model of organisations such as the FOS (Financial Ombudsman Service).  Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect too much - it is, after all, a product of the same cultural milieu which now frames the political and ideological output from the Beeb and other similar bodies.  Its prognostications depend, similarly, upon the identification of a kind of balance, which it (alone) is apparently able to define.  It will choose its own sources for defining that balance in a way that betrays its own ideological presuppositions, and this means in practice that the nature of the decisions made reflects only a kind of synthetic, internalised version of reality - one that is frequently unrecognisable, if one elects to work from the 'known knowns' within the client file.

This kind of culture depends upon the existence of gaps in the narrative.  Where an adviser, in documenting his or her advice, moves from one step to another without leaving a record of that portion of the narrative, this leaves a kind of operational space for the FOS to create its own alternate reality.  If a void exists, you can be sure that someone else, subject to a very different spectrum of beliefs and objectives, is going to work overtime to fill the space with 'could've, should've' justifications for redress.  Of course, in our experience, even the gaps may tell us something meaningful about the nature of the advice (assuming that they demonstrate some consistency with what has gone before) but they tend to act like a red rag to a bull when presented to those who are working out a very specific ideological agenda.

The answer, or rather the defence to this kind of thing, is for IFA's to be clear when documenting the narrative of advice.  It's not about being 'good at compliance', because that leaves a space for someone with a creative imagination to come up with their own version of a Terry Pratchett novel, sufficient at least for their own internal purposes.  We've written a bit about this before, but here's a graphic which may help:


This is not a 'compliance checklist'.  It is an overview of how the 'narrative' enshrined within your client file tends to develop.  Each step (apart from the first one!) is wholly dependent upon the preceding one.  The narrative is like a golden thread which links these successive steps.  It should show a clear, rational, unfolding picture - one that is consistent throughout.  Unlike BBC News at Ten, the denouement ('Implementation') shouldn't come as a complete surprise, unheralded by anything that has gone before.  Your audit trail should simply demonstrate that the 'suitability' of your advice is defensible both from the nature of the available data, and from the (documented) rationality of the decision-making process which has led to the conclusion.  And the more it evidences the sequential interactions with the client, the better.

The world may be going mad.  Other people's versions of reality may ultimately be incoherent - but yours does not need to be.

Mind the gaps!


Kevin Moss, 16/11/2018