The sudden arrival of a number of outfits, ranging from the regulator to the retailers of financial advice, offering registers and lists of planners is no coincidence. The pressure has been rising for more consumer friendly ways to navigate the waters of financial advice and now we have at least three very different types in the ‘market’.
One represents the government and while it is the ‘official’ version, it is somewhat restricted in terms of what information it can relay such as what and how planners are paid. Another group comes from the financial advice industry/profession itself and seeks to provide concrete data in one source about its offerings.
And then there are consumer-led services such as Adviser Ratings, which are not authorised by the government or the industry, but seek to give the customer more transparency and power. They also feature rating-and-review sections from consumers about planners a feature some may call ‘controversial’ but which is increasingly commonplace in many markets including professional services.
Due in March the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is the ultimate register of planners’ qualifications, who owns their practices and any black marks against them. It will be thorough and will be the go-to site to check out what the regulator knows and can say about individual licenced planners.
The register was born from the political turmoil of the Future of Financial Advice debate, nurtured through working groups to define it’s scope and will come of age as and when it proves its worth with the public.
There’s no doubt the financial planning industry will look very closely at the register and the challenge will be to ensure consumers realise it’s in their interests to do likewise. It’s handy that any information on the register should also be available to the other players in this area and Adviser Ratings is keen to include useful data in a way consumers will use.
On the industry-side the Westpac bank planning arm BT have launched their own Adviser View which is limited to their own staff and provides details on qualifications, specialities and professional memberships. It allows some qualified consumer comments about its own planners but how direct the feedback turns out to be remains to be seen. In saying that, we welcome the move.
Then there’s Adviser Ratings. While it might be tempting to have the power of the regulator or the funding of a big bank we have neither. We do however come from the consumer-side of the equation seeking to use the revolution which is empowering customers in so many other areas get better results from financial advice.
We have been called both opportunist and commercial-focused in ways not necessarily endearing. However we don’t shy away from the tempting opportunity to actually do something using the latest technologies to help rebuild confidence in a much-needed service.
Our primary focus is to drive change which benefits consumers into areas where there are contested notions of who is looking after their best interests. While there’s no charge to consumers or planners, after gaining traction we need to hone a business model which keeps us sustainable while honouring our commitment to trust and transparency. And we welcome the arrival of any service which can bring information consumers can use to one place to help them make better and more informed decisions.
How objective, robust or useful that information is, the way it is displayed and can be used will be fascinating to behold.
Ultimately if there’s any such thing as the wisdom of crowds the aggregated consumer will decide and reward what is in their best interests.