If you’ve read Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock, as every Financial Planner should, then you will know a) everything we do involves forecasts about how the future will unfold, and b) we’re not very good at it. The book explains there are some techniques we can use to improve the odds of an accurate forecast. Even then, it’s still a forecast and there’s a fairly high likelihood it will be wrong.
The approach of Kevin (O’Donnell, Financial Planning Today editor) sharing his top ten wishes for 2017 is far more sensible than attempting to be a super forecaster.
Before sharing some of my own wishes for the next twelve months, I wanted to start by looking at his first wish.
Creating a unified professional body for Financial Planning and Paraplanning sounds like a great idea. I agree with Kevin that it would probably involve a merger of the CISI and PFS, or the creation of a new body.
It’s been fantastic to see, in recent years, the emergence of Paraplanning as a distinct profession within Financial Planning. Whereas Paraplanning used to be an admin role for many firms, or part of the function carried out by the Financial Planner, today is has become a standalone profession.
I write as the owner of a firm with three full-time employed Paraplanners, each with this as their chosen profession. Paraplanners have a strong and growing voice within the Financial Planning community, in addition to their own community. It’s a genuine career path now for those who prefer those aspects of the Financial Planning process that don’t necessarily require client interaction, or at least responsibility for acquiring and retaining client relationships.
Yet I can see the case for unification. A lot of what Financial Planners and Paraplanners do is different. A lot of it is the same. I could argue that all Financial Planners need Paraplanning skills, even if they don’t utilise them on a daily basis. Whilst not all Paraplanners need the same skills required of a Financial Planner, they could probably benefit from having access to this toolkit, especially when it comes to developing a deep understanding of client needs and wants.
Running too much as two separate professions within the wider Financial Planning space could become a distraction, creating unnecessary cost and time pressures on small Financial Planning firms who juggle both functions. So let’s unify both paths and work more closely together as a group with common goals.
In terms of unification, there are benefits in blending the training pathway and roles themselves. The disadvantage of greater divergence between Paraplanners and Financial Planners is growing expense and complication from having separate qualifications, accreditations and events. There is so much both can learn if we cross-pollinate and work more closely together.
With that view out of the way, here are a few of my own wishes for Financial Planning in 2017.
1. Fewer opinions from those on the outside of our profession. We have some excellent consultants within Financial Planning and also lots of people who make a living selling services to Financial Planners. In recent years, many of these people have promoted their wares by expressing some very strong and intransigent opinions about how we should do things. For 2017 it would be great to see only those who are actively Financial Planning with clients sharing their views on how Financial Planner should be doing things. Less noise about passive investing, the evils of working with product provider or how we choose to charge for our services would be a good start.
2. Get the taxpayer to pay for money guidance. The government has an opportunity this year, as it finally scraps the hideously bloated Money Advice Service, to replace it with something valuable for low-income consumers who cannot access professional advice. Whatever they replace it with needs to be funded by the taxpayer, not by Financial Planners. It’s time to drop the pretence that an industry-funded money guidance service is somehow beneficial to Financial Planners or part of our civic duty to fund. It’s not.
3. Make the polluter pay for compensation. We still have a ridiculous levy system for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme which serves to push up the cost of advice, make budgeting for Financial Planning businesses near to impossible, and rewards those who seek advice from charlatans or invest in esoteric products. The FCA has an opportunity this year to review FSCS funding, shift the cost burden to the manufacturers and distributors of the riskiest products, and give the clients of professional Financial Planners a break from the indirect cost of eye wateringly high annual levies.
4. Slash the burden of regulation altogether. What we do, at its heart, is quite simple. Yet we operate in an environment where big banks and small Financial Planners effectively share the same principles, rules and regulatory resources. For those Financial Planners who are not pushing the boundaries and using doomed to fail investment or tax planning schemes, and are Financial Planning led in their approach, a simpler form of regulation would greatly benefit all involved. It might help to close the advice gap a little too.
5. Give up on the idea robo-advice is going to steal our jobs or make things better for investors. Robo advice is going to steal our jobs, but only once artificial intelligence has been properly deployed and probably combined with virtual reality, to offer clients the experience of meeting with a real Financial Planner, but at scale. This isn’t going to happen in 2017. For now, what we have are lots of online investment platforms masquerading as the future. Consumers need regular reminders that these are not robots and they are not offering advice.
And of course, in addition to all of this, I wish all Financial Planners a prosperous year where they can get on with the important work of delivering service to their clients, helping individuals and families realise dreams, protecting them from financial vulnerabilities and generally doing an excellent job.
Martin Bamford CFPTM Chartered MCSI FPFS is managing director at Informed Choice.
He is a Chartered Financial Planner, Chartered Wealth Manager and a SOLLA Accredited Later Life Adviser