We all know that almost every single bank and building society in this nation has sacked almost every regulated investment adviser in the last two years. We all know that this is because the regulator's Retail Distribution Review has forced the spotlight onto the cost and quality of advice/products to such an extent that it has become clear that clients have been receiving a very bad deal. Poor products have been pressure mis-sold expensively and with appallingly low service levels to an uneducated public. RDR has pulled the duvet back and exposed the mess in the bed. And the banks have run away sheepishly.
But are they going to clean up their mess? There are hundreds of thousands of clients around this nation who are invested in risky fluctuating asset-backed investments with little understanding of what they are caught up in. The banks have withdrawn, in varying degrees, the ability to assess and amend these investments, leaving investors dangerously unsupported.
The options now available vary from a telephone number to a call centre where a "non-advised" conversation can occur, a recommendation to consult www.unbiased.co.uk, a recommendation to seek independent advice, or finally no help whatsoever. Unless of course, you are a 'high net worth client', in which case an advice model similar to the past aberration may continue to operate.
Think for a second. Advised asset-backed investments in the modern world mainly adhere to the principle of asset allocation and rebalancing reflecting a client's attitude to risk and reward. The performance of a portfolio relies heavily upon the asset allocation being rebalanced on a regular basis. How often and how exactly it's done is open to debate but most theories agree it is vital.
But the banks and building societies have 'orphaned' their clients. The banks have offered these clients nowhere to go of any substance to effect this rebalancing of their risky portfolios. As the years roll by these clients' portfolios will be increasingly out of line with their own attitudes to risk and reward. The time bomb is ticking. Particularly with the alleged bubble in the gilt and bond market, which chimes so terrifyingly with 'low risk' clients, who are least able to afford to lose money.
This problem is being exacerbated by the banks' bullying approach to those advisers who have been sacked. Advisers are routinely being threatened, supposedly under the Data Protection Act or non-solicitation clauses, to stop them having any contact with previous clients. It is a thinly veiled attempt by the banks to protect their profits at the expense of clients. And it keeps the unbalanced, unmanaged portfolio time bomb ticking and growing in potency.
I urge all advisers who have been ousted from the banks/building societies and who continue to work in the industry not to run scared of the written and verbal threats issued to them. If a client requests advice, give it to them. Help them to understand risk and reward, to rebalance, and to choose good funds on competitive financial terms. I urge the media and regulators to expose the mess in the banks' bed and to force the them to write a 'red letter' to each and every one of their investment clients who have been 'orphaned', urging them to seek professional advice and offering to pay for it. Anything less is naked profiteering at the expense of the person in the street. Yet again.
This is the next misselling scandal waiting to overwhelm our formerly respected high street institutions. It is their current behaviour, not past behaviour, which is making it so.
5 March 2015
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