A few weeks ago we heard about the Blue Peter ‘merger’ of the IFP with CISI and a consultation. Lots of blogs and comments followed, and the overall reaction was positive.
Mind you, if the IFP came out and recommended that it merge with Cheltenham Ladies College, I’d still remain a member, as I value the Certified Financial Planning designation and what it means. A CFP has allowed me to travel from my village in Australia and work abroad: a true worldwide qualification. It also remains the top designation in Oz, and now requires a tertiary qualification for all newcomers. Quite a hurdle, but it has respect and a real value to an adviser and consumers. In fairness to Financial Planning Association (IFPs equivalent), they don’t have a ‘PFS’ running in competition.
Yet are the PFS competition?
The recent events make you think the IFP woke up and felt it was Betamax in a VHS world. Should it care at all if we value CFP as digital? The whole business has reminded me of an Eddie Griffin gag from years ago. I’ll perhaps paraphrase to avoid any offence, but it goes something like this:
‘Everyone’s fighting over this religion ‘stuff’. You know what I’m saying. The Christians say Jesus is the messenger. The Muslims say it’s Mohammed. I say who gives a ‘damn’ who the messenger is, did you get the message?’
So, just what is the CFP message?
For me, that message is ‘sustainability’.
No, I’m not talking global warming here, but the concept is related. It means you can help clients take almost any knock life brings, allowing them or their family to carry on. Going to live til 103; no worries. Getting divorced; sorry to hear that, but it’ll be ok. Worried you might go early like your parents and leave the family skint; no worries, things can go on without you. This is the real CFP message, often lost in debates on software cashflow modelling, fee charging and passive v active.
Most of this advice is simple, yet structured and consistent. Certainly a plan and a budget, maybe some life insurance, a will, maybe advice following a divorce or sorting out a National Insurance record. Hell, maybe even a pension to get them sorted. A Certified Financial Planner qualification means you’ve undergone a pretty vigorous test to be an ‘all rounder’ or financial GP. It’s not to say that even a Chartered or Level 4 person can’t or won’t do it , but this is a worldwide ‘certified nut-free organic’ badge confirming you’ve studied the concept and continue to practice it.
Yet I’ve never seen that message to consumers.
Maybe this stuff is just plain old boring or not accessible to your Black Friday type consumers (actually all of us). It’s certainly apparent when no more than 1,000 advisers feel it’s worthwhile completing. Yet, why not? Throw in a requirement for a degree in a social science, you would create a strong point of difference. Imagine, someone who has studied finance, AND how people think?
Sure, there is Financial Planning Week, but can it ever make a dent when Black Friday is held on the very last day? ‘Sorry, I’d really like to attend your seminar on budgeting, but I NEED to get back home to order something from Amazon’. You will never win a Pepsi Challenge with 50% off a Samsung 42″ LED screen. Yet to have a sustainable economy, governments need our message and to encourage saving. Whilst on the subject, why is this event never during the first week of a New Year? The gyms seem to do well promoting a fresh start when the reality of the grey and cold post-Christmas is upon us.
We are told that growth is needed for the benefit of consumers to help people practice financial planning. With only 1,000 CFPs, that is a reasonable objective and a big task. Yet, before you heartily ‘consult’ with the planned merger, should we not want the board to try other partnerships, like with The Pensions Regulator? Small means the IFP can partner with others, yet keep true to its message. There’s also something called Auto-Enrolment going on at the moment too. Why is the IFP not all over this once off event? Pensions are part of the message. Before you shoot me down in flames about commercial conflict, note that you’ll find links to People’s Pension and NOW Pensions on their website.
Why not the Institute of Financial Planning?
Auto-Enrolment could broaden our appeal beyond 28 retweets from a Twitter campaign and raise consumer awareness of the CFP label and the message. It would also make becoming one, more interesting to those completing the Chartered route or Level 4. We’re told the IFP is good for money, tick, and the FPSB are not pushing this, tick, so why the hurry to move?
It all seems a fait accompli now and a resignation and dilution of the message, if you or I really know what that is. I worry that with our new ‘partner’, you’ll need a large lump sum in future to hear it. 1,000 CFP folk might initially have a big say in an organisation with 40,000 people, though what about in 3 years when things are ‘re-aligned’ as existing board members step down? A CFP could become only available to those with BIG money, which must be the upside from their part of the ‘merger’.
We are being consulted now, but I’m just not sure why and what outcome this will change. The board don’t want or need a vote from members, or even a plebiscite for a guide. We’ve got to get this done quickly you see, but there is no rush to publicly consider other options. At least for now the general population can amuse themselves with a Smart TV, as thankfully Black Friday is only weeks away. I too will be getting out there in the sales, as it looks like I’ll be needing a pin-stripe suit.