The CII has found itself at the centre of a row over plans to deregister the Personal Finance Society, ending its status as a separate company under the CII umbrella to save money and streamline the organisation. Some PFS members have revolted against the plans and the controversy continues with the CII promising a major consultation initiative this autumn to allow members to have their say.
Financial Planning Today: How did the recent CII AGM go, were you surprised it received a lot more publicity than the average CII AGM?
Sian Fisher: The passion Personal Finance Society members have for being part of an effective professional body that can help them develop their careers, meet their clients’ needs and raise the profile of the financial planning profession was clear for all to see by their comments ahead of, and during, our recent AGM. Given that passion, plus the amount of change the CII Group has been through in the last year with our work to bring forward remote invigilation of examinations; the departure of Keith Richards, CEO of the Personal Finance Society and Chief Membership Officer; and our proposal for an updated governance structure, I was not surprised that members would have more questions than ever before about how we are adapting and evolving as a professional body. I welcome the chance to constructively engage with members and it is vital that we understand the thoughts and feelings of both our most ardent critics and our strongest advocates and our recently announced consultation exercise, which we have planned for later this year, as well as our AGM, provides us with an excellent opportunity to do just that.
FP Today: Were you pleased that the votes and motions were all carried in line with CII recommendations, or were you disappointed so many members voted against them?
SF: We appreciate members taking the time to vote and approving the motions at the AGM. As we do every year, we reflect on the results of the AGM and consider what we need to do to ensure the Chartered Insurance Institute is our students, members and corporate customers’ chosen partner to develop their skills and knowledge at every stage of their career.
FP Today: There is clearly a lot of anger among some PFS members about the deregistration plans for the PFS. How do you feel about this and have some members misunderstood the intention of the plans? What are the intentions of the PFS changes?
SF: We are keen to engage with the approximately 100 members who felt they had to urge their peers to vote against the motions at the AGM rather than talk to us about their concerns and work with us. Later this year we will be consulting with all our 125,000 members so that we can understand their priorities, share our vision for the professional body and learn where we need to develop to best meet their needs. We never intended “de-registration” to be confused with wishing to disband the Personal Finance Society. In fact, our intention is the exact opposite: the proposal is about unifying the governance structure of the CII to ensure we work together to deliver on our purpose. We have fully recognised membership at the core of the CII and are committed to maintaining and improving what we currently deliver for Personal Finance Society members. The proposal is wholly administrative and would have no impact on the product, services or benefits we currently offer PFS members. I recognise that this has not been well communicated and I am sorry for any anxiety and confusion caused to members.
FP Today: Can you give us some background about the 2016 Manifesto and the PWC report on the CII? What is the long-term goal of the changes? Some people have said it is just about saving money - is that the case?
SF: In 2016 we were an organisation deemed “not fit for purpose” by PWC. We had an ageing heritage building, physical exam sittings and purely face-to-face events. We are now a modern, digitally-able group with e-mentoring, webinars and online assessments that allow professionals to continue to develop their skills and knowledge no matter what is going on in the wider world. We realise we haven’t got everything immediately right. The onset of the pandemic meant that we were not able to conduct physical exams but, as our qualifications are mandatory requirements for many of our students if they are to trade, we felt it imperative that we could get our exam sittings back up and running as quickly as possible. While we faced some technical difficulties at first, we quickly got to grips with why this happened and put processes in place to avoid it reoccurring. One student upset is one too many, however, and, although we have now overcome these issues, our apology for all those impacted by these difficulties is heartfelt.
We need to continue to move swiftly in the months and years ahead as we work to future-proof our services, including new delivery platforms for exams, learning, events and membership. I know that more work is needed to improve our products and services and I also recognise that technology alone will not make us the chosen partner of professionals to develop their skills and knowledge at every stage of their career. These changes are not about saving cash. We aim to provide value for money for our members by being cost efficient, but it is important to remember the CII is a not-for-profit organisation. Any savings we make as a result of the decisions we take are invested in continuing to improve the services and support we offer to our insurance and personal finance members and students. Thanks to the action taken in the last few years, the CII has de-risked, become better equipped and sufficiently resourced to continue to raise professional standards through delivering relevant learning, insightful leadership and an engaged membership.
CII Coat of Arms
FP Today: The CII has promised a meaningful consultation with members over the changes and the direction of the PFS. Can you explain a bit more about what is planned, the timetable for consultation and the next steps? Will you alter the PFS plans if a majority of members see the changes are negative?
A: The breadth and depth of this consultation reflects my personal commitment for the CII Group to understand and address the priorities and needs of Personal Finance Society members. In the next few months, members will be invited to attend Local Institute and Regional Committee meetings and speak to me, the professional body’s management team and members of the board directly. We will formally consult with Financial Planners later this year to seek their views on the vision for the Personal Finance Society and the CII Board has committed not to make any decisions about the PFS until this is complete.
The results of the consultation will be used to ensure the CII is delivering the support, educational material, skills development, and formal qualifications that you need to achieve a rewarding career and assist the public. Next year we will share with Personal Finance Society members how we will use their feedback to improve what they receive from us. The membership consultation will build on work the CII Group has already undertaken to produce a professional map. We have spent more than a year interviewing and collating the views of more than 200 market and HR leaders to map the skills, knowledge and behaviours they believe businesses and individuals will need now and in the future. The professional map will be used to ensure our existing and future learning, CPD and qualifications meet the profession’s needs and help businesses and individuals to identify and address the knowledge and skills gaps.
FP Today: Why was the PFS CEO role replaced by a CII Chief Membership Officer role? To many that seems a downgrading of the PFS - is that how you see it?
SF: The Personal Finance Society and the needs of their members are at the heart of the CII Group. Keith Richards’ role was Chief Membership Officer for all the CII Group’s societies. The main responsibilities the new CMO will have remain unchanged from those Keith has been tasked with since 2016 – which was to use the model of the Personal Finance Society to improve our wider insurance membership’s experience. To be clear: while Keith continued to hold the title CEO of the Personal Finance Society since 2016, in addition to his commitment to the Financial Planning profession, he has created the CII’s membership programme and Insurance Societies. The new CMO will be fully supported by the CII Group in meeting financial advisers’ needs.
FP Today: You have apologised to members over the communication of the PFS changes. In hindsight what would you have done differently and why did the CII continue with the deregistration plans in the face of PFS board opposition?
SF: I regret using the word deregistration – this was a proposal focussed on simplifying and merging the governance structure of the CII Group. I appreciate the CII Group’s management team did not clearly communicate the benefits of the proposal and appreciate the PFS Board is not supportive. My team has reflected on how we did not convey how a simpler legal structure would give us greater strategic flexibility to grow and adapt our membership propositions without reducing the power of the Personal Finance Society’s board to continue to task CII Group employees to deliver. Unification would not have compromised the benefits members receive from the Personal Finance Society nor the number or quality of CII Group employees who are committed to supporting Financial Planners.
FP Today: You have praised the role of the PFS in boosting professionalism in the sector. How much does the CII value the PFS and how do you see the future role of the PFS - will it be much more closely aligned to the CII?
SF: The Chartered Insurance Institute has fully supported the growth of the Personal Finance Society and we are immensely proud of our largest body, using it as a model to create our Insurance Societies and relaunch the Society of Mortgage Professionals. I hope members now clearly understand the CII Group’s commitment to the Personal Finance Society and how the support offered to members, and work to raise the profile of the profession, has always been conducted by and is at the heart of the CII Group.
FP Today: Are you concerned that disgruntled members of the PFS could now leave the CII?
SF: Financial advisers already have a choice of professional and trade bodies they can choose to be part of so we can never rest on our laurels. Our surveys show Personal Finance Society members really value the services they receive from CII staff and our Group infrastructure such as our conferences, webinars and in-person seminars to enhance skills, enable networking and the sharing of insights. Members appreciate our experienced policy team challenge regulators and policy makers on behalf of Personal Finance Society members to make sure the rules that govern the profession result in the best outcome possible for clients. They value our public affairs experts’ work with leading lights in the profession to explain what regulatory developments mean for the way Financial Planners work and share the latest thinking on good practice. Hundreds of members appreciate that we create ways to give back to the communities they work in, through schemes such the My Personal Finance Skills education programme for schools. They like how we champion our members and recognise their achievements with the Personal Finance Awards.
I am hopeful many of our roughly 40,000-strong Personal Finance Society membership will engage with our consultation later this year, continue to help shape our work and choose to remain a part of the country’s largest professional body for Financial Planners for years to come.
FP Today: You said at the AGM that the CII had a tough time during the pandemic with a loss of income and is currently dealing with a multi-million pound deficit, albeit long-term reserves remain substantial. How are the finances shaping up and how do you see the future for the CII and the Chartered Financial Planning profession?
SF: The Coronavirus pandemic significantly reduced the CII’s ability to generate revenue last year. In 2019 we reported revenue of £45.2m and a surplus before tax of £2.8m. In 2020, our revenue decreased by 18% to £36.9m and we are reporting a deficit of £3.8m before tax. The main cause of lower revenue was physical exam sittings were unable to take place during the first half of the year and all physical events were cancelled due to measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus.
Prudent financial management means despite the events of 2020, at the start of 2021 the CII Group’s reserves still stand at £34.3m - a financial position that allows us to continue delivering to members and students in the years to come. Our single major route to rebuilding our revenue in 2021 is to regain half the sittings we lost in 2020, and the same again in 2022. We are on track to achieve this level of revenue and we are receiving positive feedback and completions rates for students who do our practice tests ahead of their online sittings. We are committed to listening to our members, students and corporate customers and using what we learn to support them every step of the way as they progress their career and to ensure they remain a life-long member.
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