Have IFAs finally found their champion in Harriett Baldwin?

With all the focus on Ros Altmann’s appointment as pensions minister the advice industry has missed the most significant Government hire for advisers: Harriett Baldwin.

Last month Baldwin was appointed Treasury economic secretary  responsible for almost every key issue affecting advisers and their clients in the next five years.

She has sweeping powers over retail financial services including advice,  regulation, the Equitable Life redress provisions and Help to Buy mortgage scheme.

Most significantly she will have responsibility for the delivery of pension freedoms and liaising with Altmann.

It is a broad brief and her key decisions will affect advisers and their clients significantly. So who is she?

Baldwin worked at JP Morgan for 20 years as an investment manager before deciding to run for parliament.

Some have highlighted her deep City connections over two decades – including campaign donations from hedge funds and others – as an example of being an industry woman.

“She’s knows her way around the City and knows where the skeletons are buried,” Tory MP Mark Garnier, who has known her for 10 years and sits in a neighbouring constituency, tells me. “She has a technical mind.”

Baldwin was elected in 2010 to West Worcestershire ad joined the work and pensions select committee.

Her first major parliamentary act in October 2010 was to lead a parliamentary debate on the impact of the RDR alongside fellow newbie backbencher Mark Garnier.

Baldwin said she had a “binder full of correspondence” from IFA constituents who warned the RDR would put them out of business in its current form. She hailed the debate as the “first time the regulation of IFAs had been debated in a Chamber of the House”.

Then-Treasury financial secretary Mark Hoban was hauled to the dispatch box and robustly defended the regulation in memorably colourful terms claiming IFAs had the same qualifications as McDonalds staff.

Baldwin quizzed the under-fire Hoban by accusing the FCA of using a “sledgehammer to miss a nut”.

Hoban ignored the warnings and pressed ahead, later telling me the entire RDR project was “nothing to do with him” and he could not interfere.

Incredibly Baldwin was then hired as parliamentary private secretary to newly appointed employment minister Hoban in autumn 2012.

Now she is in a position to influence financial services regulatory policy and clearly has sympathies to the over-regulation of IFAs and associated costs.

But when I spoke to Baldwin after the RDR was introduced she lamented most IFAs badly affected had already gone out of business so there was little benefit in treading over old ground.

It remains to be seen what influence she can exert over the FCA policies as a minister as the regulator is officially independent. However, now would be the time for lobbyists to approach the new sympathetic minister about old adviser favourites such as the long-stop or ombudsman irrationalities.

Pension reform is a live issue she can certainly influence. Sitting on the DWP select committee Baldwin was refreshingly non-partisan enough to regularly heap praise on former Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb.

In 2013 she was refused a parliamentary debate on “important steps” the Government was taking to improve life for older people such as the flat rate state pension, auto-enrolment and the triple lock.

Initially she opposed a pensions charge cap and wanted more competition to push down consumer costs.

She also raised concerns about the “awfully high” 1.8 per cent up front charge for Nest schemes and openly criticised the body.

She will be the one hauled before the Treasury select committee if there are any major hiccoughs on the freedom trail.

Another live issue on her in-tray is the Money Advice Service, currently subject to an internal review.

The Treasury will decide on its future role and scope later this year and it is Baldwin’s decision.

Last year, she also fought against the MAS when it tried to cut funding for financial guidance in half at South Worcestershire Citizens Advice Bureau.

The MAS, which can dole out financial guidance funds to local CAB branches, quickly caved on the cuts when Baldwin wrote to them.

“The MAS was quick to see that this was an unfortunate oversight and reversed the decision in a matter of days,” she said.

It remains to be seen how this brief clash with the MAS affects her thinking when she has to deal with them later this year.

Whether it is fighting against the RDR, MAS or Nest charges it is clear that Baldwin is someone the IFA community can do business with.  The pensions team of Altmann and Baldwin delivering pensions policy is nothing short of dreamland for an adviser community treated to insults from Hoban in the last parliament.

So with her sweeping Treasury role and expertise, have advisers finally found their Government champion?

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