Sometimes, one begins to wonder what a word actually means. Take the word 'vegetarian', for instance. Does it mean someone with a principled rejection of the very idea of eating meat, or can it be used in other contexts? For example, might it apply to someone who simply prefers his veggies, but is still happy to engulf a nice, marinaded chicken breast, provided that it came from a dainty bird? Or does it apply to someone who eats lots of lamb, on the basis that the creature itself was firmly-wedded to a diet of fresh grass? That would make the meat-eater, a kind of second-order vegetarian, wouldn't it?
No, those rather more flexible, ambiguous definitions would seem to be a nonsense. Being a 'vegetarian' is a kind of all-or-nothing thing. If you eat meat, then you cannot rightly use the word to describe yourself - there is another term for that: omnivore. A little like being a smoker for insurance purposes. "No, I'm not smoker" says the client, "but I do enjoy the occasional fag".
Language is there for a reason. It allows us to navigate our way through multitude of options, and be able to define them so that we can know which is which. There is a good reason why that bottle is labeled 'Arsenic', as it helps differentiate the contents from the packet labeled 'Doughnuts'. The two are not necessarily the same.
Which is why this morning's conversation with St. James Place was an interesting one. I had not, I hasten to say, solicited the contact. It was some friendly marketing manager wishing to initiate a conversation which might result in the absorption of ValidPath into the SJP way of doing financial services.
I listened to the opening gambit, and then asked if the gentleman knew what we were? I think that he may have used the acronym 'IFA', but the term did not appear to convey any semantic baggage with it. I stated that we are independent, and asked if SJP was. Reassuringly, I was told that SJP advisers don't just sell SJP products, but have access to other stuff too. I asked if that simply meant that they offer a restricted advice proposition, whereupon he tried to sell me on the 'other investment funds' that their advisers have access to. Finally, after a good deal too much pressing for a sign of clarity, we were able to conclude that SJP's proposition is actually 'restricted', and that, should ValidPath forsake it's current path, we would thereby cease to be independent.
I came off the phone profoundly depressed, for several reasons:
Firstly, I see nothing in the FCA regs which might justify this kind of malleable, obfuscatory ambiguity which results in a kind of pathological aversion to being clear. I wondered if many of their clients have the perspicuity or force of character to persevere in a conversation, intending to introduce some ray of light into the murk. I suspect that few do.
And then, I wondered what a professional relationship might look like, later on, having started with this kind of dissimulation. It doesn't look promising, does it?
And then, I shuddered a bit when I thought about the underlying philosophy which had been absorbed by this representative of SJP. Words such as 'independent' or 'restricted' apparently have no specific, or even relative meanings. Indeed, the semantic content of the word 'restricted' (as imparted by the FCA's own dictionary) can actually be rearranged, in a strange parallel universe, to mean exactly the same thing as the word 'independent'. I'm pretty sure this is not what the FCA had in mind with the RDR.
Thankfully, ValidPath Members know what independent means. We're idealogically committed to this model of advice because we know that it's the only way of aspiring to the best possible outcomes for our clients.
“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass