The last of the joint Adviser Association Conference bunfests took place in Auckland last week, to be superseded by the unified Conference in 2018, all going according to plan.
The timing of the announcement that the FSLAB is to be presented to Parliament was perfectly staged as the Minister, Jacqui Dean, opened proceedings on the first day. The organisers and the Association people have become pretty slick at putting a smooth-running affair together, and Mike King's seemingly effortless, but highly polished MC skills compensated for any imperceptible changes in schedule. Mike has the instinctive gift of adding the right amount of levity - just when the tone is getting way too serious - cheers, bro - always a pleasure.
Promoting the value of advice was a fitting theme, given the confirmation that the Financial Advisers Act is to be repealed and the new regime - pending any changes in the Beehive in September - is to be implemented. Others will wax more eloquently than I on the merits or otherwise of the legislation, but I'd just like to say that it's gratifying that we finally have some certainty around what the regime is to be and what we are dealing with going forward.
There will no doubt be those that whinge and moan about the Act when it arrives but in my experience in the development of regulatory regimes overseas, it's less stressful and more productive to play the cards you're given - you may not like the hand that's been dealt, but if you don't play - you ain't in the game.
So on that point, I have some words for Financial Advice New Zealand and its Board of Directors.
Following the establishment of Authorised Financial Adviser status at the outset of industry regulation, promises were made about support and promotion of those who aspired to be AFA. As we all now know, these promises were but empty rhetoric and were never fulfilled. Indeed, AFAs were regarded by FMA's first CEO as "cowboys" - much like all the other financial advisers in town. Fortunately, that primitive and destructive attitude is no longer predominant in the Sherriff's office, and there is a much healthier interaction possible because of that.
However, the interaction - or as it's sometimes called - consultation, can frequently be one way.
Sifting through the submissions to the Exposure Draft, I found a considerable lobby of opinion favouring formal and regulatory clarification for the consumers' benefit of the distinction between sales and advice. This has largely been ignored. Sure, a modicum of clarity was offered in discarding the silly "Financial Advice Representative" disguise in preference to Nominated Representative, but unlike the Minister, I doubt whether consumers will be able to conclude that such an individual is tied to the organisation named above the office door.
But those are the cards dealt to us so here's what needs to be done -
Financial Advice New Zealand should mount an orchestrated fully-funded ongoing campaign educating the consumer on the differences between the functions, duties, and obligations of a Financial Adviser - and everyone/anyone else in the market place who purports to offer guidance or input on insurance, savings, or investment matters.
Nobody else will do this on the Advisers' behalf - for sure not the Government (reference AFA "promotion" mentioned previously). So, to paraphrase Randall's message to the audience at Conference - "If it's going to be, it's down to me". The "me" in this case is Financial Advice New Zealand, of course.
The Conference itself is always a grand opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some new ones - as one old friend opined "I know less and less of the faces at Conference as each year passes". I believe that's an encouraging sign as it means there's a new generation of advisers emerging with some of us "senior" members of the industry handing the baton over to successors.
Long may the independent adviser industry thrive, prosper, and continue to deliver essential financial services to the community at large!