Be the brand
The financial news this week is full of the revelation that Phoenix Group have bought the Standard Life 'brand'. You can read such details as currently exist in that FT Adviser piece, and also in Wealth Manager, but I'm not sure that there's much there that provides real enlightenment. One is never sure what kind of benefit accrues to the client, as a result of all of this horse-trading, but I was struck again by the way in which the passing years have brought about a redefinition of value.
You see, I am old enough to recall a time when Standard Life was a particular kind of thing. I remember the days when those Broker Consultants from that fine Scottish Institution pushed their wheelbarrows into intermediary offices, yelling "Fill 'er up!". And, dutifully, IFAs from all over the UK, piled their proposals in, because that is what they'd been trained to do by representatives imbued with a sense of their company's transcendence.
I think I must have been a great disappointment to my SL Broker Consultant. My belief in this great bastion of fiscal munificence was simply too half-hearted. Every time the man came into my office, you could see how my lack of faith was a sore burden to him, and I had to stop myself from promising to do better next time, lest he shed too many tears of regret. I suspect that my early development as an IFA was arrested by the sense that I was such a profound disappointment to such a vast organisation that clearly had a right to the lion's share of my business.
The commentary within the financial media is all about 'the brand'. It is as if this is the be-all-and-end-all. In the good old days, if there was a sense of loyalty to a company such as Standard Life, it was because of a number of tangible attributes: good customer service; solid actuarial policy in relation to bonus distributions; solid financial strength credentials; that palpable sense of Scottish prudence and equity; a quite distinct trajectory in relation to product design and packaging...
Now, it's about the 'brand', and the brand is (apparently) something that can be traded back and forth, without it relating in any obvious way to a set of objective criteria that are meaningful to customers or indeed a set of values for which it stands. It floats free of any underpinning which might actually matter to real people with real financial priorities. Frankly, for normal people, the kinds of people that IFAs are seeking to help, it doesn't matter whether 'Standard Life' actually is Standard Life, or some kind of manufactured chimera that, underneath, is Something Else.
That is to say, for your clients, the only 'brand' that really matters is you. You're the one with physical substance, as far as they are concerned. You're the only real point of contact with a disembodied world that has largely redacted the word 'services' out of 'financial ********'. For your clients, the things that matter to them - integrity, professionalism, ethics, genuine care - are only likely to be found in you.
When Phoenix get bored of their latest acquisition, and Standard Life becomes acquired by 'Lucky Rabbits Insurance' (trading over the local butchers), your clients will still have you looking after them, rather than the next bunch of disengaged strangers. Isn't that something really worth celebrating?