I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the recent article in New Model Adviser in which Adam Owen raises the question of how we might go about meaningfully improving the view that the public holds of our profession.
Owen argues that the small number of bad actors who are responsible for dragging down trust will never be inspired to improve by the regulator. Recent history suggests that this is not a particularly controversial view to hold.
Instead, he proposes clients as the untapped agent of change our profession needs and I think he’s right to do so. They, unlike the regulator or the professional bodies, have a direct relationship with advisers and with that comes leverage. You could summarise the approach as follows: educate the public, change the profession.
I often find myself thinking of our role as financial planners as being quite similar to that of GPs and I think in this instance it provides a helpful parallel.
As patients we all have a sense of what ‘good’ looks like when we visit our GP. If we were offered a prescription without first being asked about our situation, we’d know something wasn’t right and we’d push back against it. If necessary, we’d seek a second opinion. This stems from the fact that we each have a feel for the process a doctor goes through to get from problem to solution.
With a similar sense of what they should be expecting from their relationship with an adviser, clients would be able to better shop around, applying pressure on those who are bringing down trust for us all.
What amount of education would it take to suitably equip consumers in this way? My suspicion is that it’s not much and that it isn’t anything too complex – turning everyone into a CFP is certainly not the solution. One possibility is to focus in on helping clients to understand what the process of financial planning looks like. To come up with an easily understood framework that sets out what they should expect.
In his article, and in the comments section below, Owen has started a discussion around just this. But he makes one thing clear – it’s not up to him, it’s up to us all to come up with a way forward. Without one, our lack of trust with the public will mean we never reach the people who need us most.