We need a unified trade body

There are likely to be three trade bodies soon, each fighting its own members\' corner, and this will be fine as long as there is movement towards eventual unity, says Richard Griffiths

Some people find me irritating. I know it’s hard to understand but they do. Take Chris Cummings for example.

Cummings is one of the good guys in the industry. As the inaugural head of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries he quickly established the organisation as a recognised trade body that now represents over 70% of mortgage intermediaries.

AMI started out in life based in the same offices – Austin Friars in the City of London – as the Association of Independent Financial Advisers, which was headed by Paul Smee.

David Severn took over as head of AIFA earlier this year but his tenure was cut short when ill health forced his retirement. Cummings took over as the supremo of AIFA as well as retaining this role at AMI.

I know Cummings finds it irritating that Network Data has steadfastly refused to join AMI since its inception in April 2003 but our reasons at the time were two-fold. One, the financial position of AMI was underpinned by a loan of 100,000 arising from a joint effort between the Council of Mortgage Lenders and its offshoot, the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association. Money talks, and I felt that with its lender purse strings AMI would find it difficult to be a truly independent champion for brokers whose best interests are not always aligned with those of lenders. My favourite topic of procuration fees is the obvious example. Higher, say brokers. Lower, say lenders.

The second reason was that there was no evidence of AMI campaigning on the issue of proc fees and that still remains the case today. In all the hundreds of articles penned by Cummings over the past few years I cannot recall any arguing the case for higher proc fees for brokers.

In a recent article, Cummings made an impassioned plea for support to boost his membership from its 70% figure to closer to 100%. He cites AMI’s good work in vigorously lobbying the Financial Services Authority, the Treasury, the European Union in Brussels, and its efforts to drive down the charges made by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. But again, no mention of proc fees.

It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes tale about the dog that did not bark. Why not? Why does AMI not put proc fees on its agenda?

As director-general of both AIFA and AMI, Cummings is today embroiled in far more wide-ranging matters. Depolarisation in the IFA market is causing a number of IFA firms to go down the multi-tie route and operate with a limited panel of product providers – albeit carefully researched and best of breed – for life, pensions and investments.

Companies belonging to AIFA recently voted not to allow multi-tied firms to join the organisation. Simon Chamberlain, chief executive of Thinc-Destini, is reported as saying that he will not endorse AIFA’s decision to exclude multi-ties as it is offensive to suggest multi-tied advisers do not put the interests of their customers first.

Chamberlain goes on to say: “I would not advise anyone to join an organisation that preaches segregation within our profession.”

I must add my voice of dissent and say Network Data will not join any trade body for mortgage intermediaries that does not have proc fees at or near the top of its agenda.

But even without such dissent, Cummings will have his work cut out maintaining a balance between the interests of the three groups – IFAs, multi-tied firms and mortgage intermediaries. The likely outcome is three separate trade bodies located at Austin Friars, with Cummings sitting at the top of the pile.

This would be a far better outcome than three bodies going their separate ways. At least it would provide the opportunity to paper over the cracks, focus on the many areas of overlapping interest and work towards a truly unified body in the future.

But each of the bodies would need a clearly identifiable deputy director-general who focusses 100% on the interests of its own members and fights their corner when areas of friction arise between the three bodies, as they will.

Does board change at Berkeley Berry Birch contain hidden message?

I think the recent public announcement by Berkeley Berry Birch, made through the Stock Exchange’s Regulatory News Service, warrants full disclosure.

RNS Number: 3307S

Berkeley Berry Birch PLC

06 October 2005

DIRECTORATE CHANGE

The Board of Berkeley Berry Birch PLC is pleased to announce that Jonathan Hall (41) has joined the Board as a Non-Executive Director with immediate effect.

Mr Hall is Managing Director of Howard Denton International Limited, a Birmingham based corporate finance boutique. He was previously Regional Director of Tenon Group’s Birmingham office. He is a Fellow of the Securities Institute and is a director of Harbinger Capital PLC, an AIM-quoted investment company. Between June 2003 and November 2004, Mr Hall was a director of Caplay PLC.

Other than as set out below Mr Hall has no details to disclose under paragraph 9.6.13 of The Listing Rules:

Mr Hall was appointed a non-executive director of Bridgman Doors Limited in July 1999, acting as shareholder representative on behalf of a private company as part of its venture capital portfolio. Bridgman was placed in creditors voluntary liquidation on 3 February 2000. Secured and preferential creditors were paid in full. Unsecured creditors amounting to 3.5 million received a dividend of 0.48p in the pound.

Mr Hall was an executive director of Candy & Co Limited between June 1996 and 8 May 1998 when he sold his 5% shareholding to a subsidiary of the Company’s parent Keramik Holding AG Laufen, a Swiss public company. Candy & Co. Limited was placed in administrative receivership on 17 November 1998 and subsequently placed in compulsory liquidation.

Expressions such as “creditors voluntary liquidation” and “administrative receivership” hit me in the face. Call me cynical but is there a hidden message here?

For any board of directors contemplating closing down the business, Jonathan Hall would seem a fellow of impeccable credentials and experience in providing advice and assistance in this respect.

I am not suggesting for a moment that our friends at Berkeley Berry Birch are considering such as move but to state the obvious, it makes you wonder.