Afloat in the Sea of Ambiguity?
I have always quite liked the idea of the Sea of Tranquility. Set to one side, for a moment, the fact that this Sea is located on the moon, and the tranquility may well be a byproduct of the complete absence of a breathable atmosphere. No, the Sea of Tranquility feels like a good place to be. In that place, the phone doesn't ring incessantly. Things stay the same in this Sea because there are no regulators beavering away to reinvent our lives every five minutes. If the Sea of Tranquility contained water, it would lap gently, soporifically. Seabirds would nest tranquilly in the motionless palm trees, instead of dive-bombing our ice-cream. Whilst on holiday at the Sea of Tranquility, one would send postcards home to work colleagues, saying "Glad you're not here" lest they turn up and generally upset the peace.
Perhaps it's a good thing that the whole idea is so unfeasibly impractical. In the real world, IFAs like us are very much afloat on the Sea of Ambiguity. This seems an accurate description of the kind of sliding scale which exists between information and advice. The provision of information (on financial products) is not, in itself, a regulated activity, but giving advice very much is. On one level, the difference appears clear, but the apparent distinction may be a chimera, an unnatural simplism that lulls the unregulated into activities which they should steer well clear of.
It seems as if the FCA has woken up to the fact, and is launching a Consultation on the definition of advice. It seems that there may be contexts for the giving of information which effectively turn it into advice, for example where that information is highly selective and not, therefore, 'balanced'. The information may be presented to consumers with no advisory input whatsoever, but it may be so selective as to engineer a particular response from the consumer. One wonders if this FCA Consultation may provide us with some insight into the somewhat incomprehensible activities of the Money Advice Service? After all, it has the magic word 'advice' in its title.
Of course, the ambiguity may work in the other direction, too. Perhaps certain aspects of what the IFA delivers actually aren't advice at all? Thankfully, the FCA has clarified that advice is being given if it covers the following three elements:
A recommendation is being made to an investor, potential investor, or someone acting on behalf of an investor;
The recommendation is presented as being suitable for that person;
In relation to a particular investment, the recommendation must entail the taking of certain actions.
Once it is clear that advice
is the thing being delivered, then the one giving it is subject to the FCA's Suitability Requirements
. ValidPath now has an extensive range of practical suitability guidance, covering all sorts of financial products which Members can access via our website.
We await the results of this FCA Consultation with interest. Anything that helps define ambiguities out of existence (or to the periphery of our world) is welcome, and it may actually assist Financial Planning practices in delivering a more cost-effective service to clients who do not, in given contexts, require advice
ValidPath's Evidencing Independence Workshop
Thursday 11th September 2014 (Evening Dinner on the 10th)