Where are the (market) police when you need them?
Compliance & Strategic Issues

Where are the (market) police when you need them?

May 8, 2013

by Tony Vidler

financial services market regulator responsibilityOnce again a survey shows Financial Advisers are not a trustworthy lot.

Shame on us. Shame!

Actually…shame on the survey companies and shame on the media for latching onto sparse data and turning it into tabloid headlines that actually breed further distrust.

And shame on market regulators for allowing the nonsense to continue.

These surveys are rubbish.  They are masquerades to sell consumer magazines and tabloid journals. It is cheap scare-mongering and headline grabbing by taking cheap shots at easy targets.

This type of sensationalism is destructive to our societies as a whole, and decidedly unhelpful to consumers. It is irresponsible and downright dangerous.

It is absolutely fair to say that Financial Advisers have over the years had too many bad headlines to expect widespread trust readily from those who do not know today’s professionals personally.  This is one of the reasons why the industry battles to achieve professional recognition.

However, to simply lay the blame at the feet of the advisers themselves is blatantly incorrect and unfair.  It IS the advisers who are trying to lift standards and ethics and the consumer experience.  So too are regulators internationally generally….albeit with a rather narrow focus on who the industry participants are.  They seem forget that the opinion makers are industry stakeholders and warrant a little oversight themselves.

The media is in itself an opinion former.  It has a moral responsibility to use that power intelligently and for the good of the majority.  Many media institutions (though certainly not all by a long shot) neglect this fundamental moral obligation.

In fact, I’ll go further and suggest that the sections of the media that ignore this moral obligation are in themselves the primary destroyers of professional trust.images (3)

Like it or not, we have to accept that many ordinary consumers believe rubbish simply because it was on the evening news or printed in a newspaper.  If the newspaper prints a story that says nobody trusts financial advisers then the average punter thinks to themselves “well I’d better not trust them either”.  If the Sun reports that a Kardashian has taken a vow of chastity and celibacy for life, millions will believe it readily.

The latest survey out of Australia is not in itself unusual in its findings.  We have had the same things in Australia, and NZ, and elsewhere before. We’ve had the mystery shopping sprees that canvas 20 advisers with flawed methodology and loaded cases, and then draw outrageous conclusions that border on defamation of the poor sods surveyed while simultaneously castigating thousands of other businesses.

Some facts:

  • Australia has some 23,000,000 people today
  • 600 were surveyed
  • 30 “professions” were surveyed, 21 of whom received better rankings than the previous year.
  • Financial advisers constituted 2 of the professional categories, with Insurance Brokers being separated from Financial Planners.  It is assumed that survey respondents understand the difference?
  • Financial Planning’s trustworthiness has been static since its inclusion in the list of professions.
  • Insurance Brokers have fared somewhat better…hovering at 10% for some time but now ranking highly in ethics and trust by apparently 13% of the population. (According to these clowns).
  • A couple of even easier perennial favorite professions are included year-in, year-out.  Car Salesman are included as a profession, and consistently win the wooden spoon for last place year after year it seems.  One would venture to suggest that they are included just for the fun of bashing them up every year.

Seriously?  Does anybody genuinely believe that only 4% of car salesmen are ethical and honest?  Or only 13% of Insurance brokers are ethical and honest?  What rot.

In any other forum…in any other part of society…we would label that bullying, or at the very least give it a label with an “ism” on it.   Like racism, or heightism, or the other ism’s.  This is adviser-ism or something.  If we had our own “ism” the perpetrators would be themselves publicly castigated, if not shunned for being bullies because it is just fundamentally wrong to allow that sort of bullying to continue.  images

We are assured that the representative sample group of 600 in a country of whom supposedly only 25% have actual experience with a financial planner are able to accurately portray the trustworthiness in any meaningful sense of the entire profession.

Depending on which definition you accept, there are somewhere between 8,000 and 16,000 professional planners.  Yet the 600 randoms were able to determine the trustworthiness of that entire group, despite the probable lack of engagement by the majority of the surveyed with the profession ever.

It is simply nonsense.

The real question for me is where is a market regulator when you want one?

In essence they are tasked with attempting to provide public confidence in the markets through the intervention of policy, regulation and monitoring of market activity.  Now that is no simple task, and I do not envy them their role.

Think about it though:  Regulators are tasked with attempting to create fair and transparent markets, that encourage the right behaviors from market participants, and build confidence in the markets consumers.  The question you would expect the regulators to be asking is:

where can I focus my limited resources and attention to achieve the best return for the majority of consumers?”

So…if some random bully pops up and misleads the entire market with half truths and outrageously illogical conclusions, isn’t that something a market regulator should be managing?  If one piece of management can prevent misinformation and destruction of confidence for millions of consumers in a single blow, wouldn’t that be a wise use of limited regulatory resources?

The reality is that the greatest destroyers of trust, and the least trustworthy of market participants, are the people behind bullshit surveys where the outcomes are largely predetermined and actually change little on a year by year basis and indulge in scaremongering for their own commercial objectives.

Really; where are the police when we need them?

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