The value of narrative 


Please bear with me on this piece, which is born out of an extended series of interactions with one particular department within the organs of regulation.  We begin the story with an application for a particular kind of authorisation for an individual, one which we knew in advance might not be entirely straightforward, but where we had asked pre-emptive questions, and already conducted supplementary due diligence.  On the basis of that additional assessment work, we had therefore proceeded to submit the relevant application (albeit not for advisory permissions).

Entirely as we had expected, the response to this was a set of questions, to which we supplied direct answers.  What then followed is, perhaps, less acceptable as a kind of practice.  A new set of queries arrived, different to the first set, and yet (at the same time) potentially answerable from our original feedback.  We gritted our teeth, and provided the supplementary answers.  After a delay, we received a new set of questions - yet again, differently framed to the preceding lot, and yet (at the same time) not wholly dissimilar - but this time using forms of language which were presuppositionally derogatory of the applicant concerned.  We scratched our heads, sat down and wrote a quite long, thorough and clearly-worded reply.  Admittedly, our response did include a couple of mild admonishments about the unhelpfulness of presuming a kind of guilt, based upon the patchy quality of information from third party references.

After that, there was silence for a period.  Then, we received another communication, this time from a different individual, as the initial PoC had moved on.  The human being may have been translated to a better place, but, uncannily, it was as if their spirit lived on, incarnated in our new PoC - another four questions, almost but not quite different to those that had been previously asked, and apparently driven by the same presumptions of guilt.  At this point, I sat down and scratched my head for a bit, pondering the bleak vista of an eternity of question iterations, each set almost, but not quite the same as the preceding set.  Would there ever be an end to it?  At what point might we find that we had, somehow, comprehensively covered every possible permutation of answers that might potentially have been given within an infinitude of parallel universes, each dominated by Regulation?

Clearly, this is an unmanageable approach.  I spent a little while looking at the four sets of questions, with their answers, set alongside each other.  It struck me that there was a great deal of consistency across the piece, not only in the questions asked, but in the answers given.  There was an even greater element of consistency between the answers we supplied, and the matrix of information about this individual that we had gathered together, as part of our due-diligence process, prior to the initial regulatory application.  In short, there was a clear narrative.  It wasn't obscure in any way, but you simply had to look for it within the documentation.  The regulator's overwhelming dependence on iterations of specific questions resulted in a kind of fragmentary approach where (apparently) no individual component related to any other individual component.  The scene was set for Maximum Prognostication & Minimised Satisfactory Outcomes (MPMSO, it's not just the regulators that can do acronyms).

Of course, in the Real World, someone has to come down off the wall and arrive at a decision.  I am far from sure that the kind of approach we are observing here is even capable of doing so reliably.  What we needed was a consistent narrative, one which accounted for the known facts, and which drew conclusions which were fair, reasonable and proportionate, based upon those known facts.  So, in the absence of anything like it from the regulator, I sat down and wrote one.

The basis for great client advice lies in understanding the narrative, and writing it up:
Read our existing guidance here


Kevin Moss, 17/09/2019