A matter of forms over functions

As directly regulated companies come face-to-face with the reality of FSA form-filling, an increasing number will lean toward AR status, unable to spare the time being unproductive, says Sue Read

Long silences followed by intermittent gruff mutterings in the style of Victor Meldrew were emanating from our senior partner’s office last week. The silence is unusual as he is a busy man and receives many calls.

However, the “hold all calls” directive was issued and his office fell quiet.

The mutterings were, I’m afraid, less unusual but then many of us, myself included, are developing a grumpy old person tendency. I am exasperated about more and more things these days and am awaiting official confirmation of what my husband tells me – it’s my age.

But the reasons for our senior partner’s uncharacteristic behaviour were two-fold. First, it was time for the dreaded professional indemnity cover renewal, with its many pages of application forms to fill in. There are facts and figures over a number of years to research and meticulously report. But the effort was worthwhile, as we managed to save an impressive amount of money on the premium.

This alone would have been enough to tip a normally sane person over the edge. But no, to add insult to injury the boss had to deal with the dreaded Retail Mediation Activities Return in the very same week.

This involved a computer-based exercise requiring the patience of a saint. I went through the online application process to vary our permissions back in February 2004 so I know of what I speak.

I can’t see how anyone at the Financial Services Authority can describe these forms as straightforward. Far from it. They are long-winded, unnecessarily complicated and use language that Sir Humphrey would be proud of. I’m reasonably intelligent but honestly, it took three of us a whole day to submit that form.

So I for one sympathised with our senior partner when I heard how he and his PA had spent almost two days of last week. And it cost them in dead production days.

Fortunately I am not the designated compliance officer for our company which means I am lucky enough not to have to deal with this bureaucracy on a daily basis. Our firm is a small one and we do not have the luxury of a dedicated compliance officer whose job it is to decipher the mysteries of the FSA and its forms. Harry Potter should be a compliance officer when he grows up. He has all the necessary qualifications.

Therefore, I was slightly surprised to see a recent poll that did not anticipate a swing away from directly authorised toward appointed representative status. Joining a network would have many attractions for a company like ours but we fiercely cling to what we see as our independent status.

But I think as intermediaries come to do their RMARs, an increasing number will lean toward AR status simply because they cannot spare the time and take the strain of doing the submissions themselves.