Lifesearch’s Tom Baigrie: It is time for a protection trade body

It seems frankly bathetic to write about anything else when the savers of Cyprus seem likely to have their money stolen by order of the ‘Troika’ charged with saving the Euro.

It might be that many of the foreign savers using Cypriot banks came by their money in ways they wouldn’t want fully investigated, but that would be to mix up prejudice and the law, which Europe has avoided since 1945.

It seems to me that an awful precedent is being set – that a government, when desperate for funds, can raid the savings of those who bank within its grasp.

Along with tales of extreme regulatory arrogance on this side of the channel it forms a deeply disturbing trend, where those in authority over us, supported by a deep belief in their own virtue, can play fast and loose with civilised norms in order to protect their projects or further their plans for perfection.

In this column’s little corner of the world it is becoming clear that protection needs to explain itself very convincingly if the present intermediated distribution landscape is to survive and grow, as consumers badly need it to.

Our threat may seem trivial compared to the chaos elsewhere, but it originates from the same minds and needs facing up to fast. To do so needs collective effort and this requirement has lately driven a flurry of talk of the need for trade bodies.

The Protection Code of Conduct campaign is not a trade body, but it has recruited 50 major intermediaries to its cause and has a leading light in each distribution channel to volunteer to serve on a steering committee, so it could perhaps become one. But within days of starting to think about that, other far more experienced committee men tell us they are considering starting offshoots focusing on protection, so the question we now face is whether to joins in the efforts of others or follow a more focussed agenda.

Protection has always suffered by being a sideshow to the main fare of investment and pensions at the CII, Aifa/Apfa and the ABI, or saving and mortgages at the BBA and BSA, but it is a market worth specific dedicated full time focus.

And looking at the post-RDR position, it is the retail side of our market that most needs most to now be properly represented.

For my money a new trade body is needed that is:

  1. By protection retailers and of them too. It can happily include those manufacturers who also distribute, and find funding from wherever it can, but its focus must be resolutely on the retail interface between those who sell or arrange protection products and the consumer.

  2. Determined to achieve what is right for the consumer. There is no need to duplicate regulation or the work of the CII but those that do not uphold minimum standards should be left or slung out.

  3. Inclusive of all retail streams, advised or non-advised, online or phone or face to face. Consumers want to deal in all these ways, so they must have the same underlying standards. It is no longer about what an adviser must or must not do.

  4. Set up very fast and have an immediate first intent to engage the regulators before their thinking gets past the point of no return, which perhaps takes much less time than it used to.

One adds another acronym to the alphabet soup at one’s peril, especially if one has no experience of forming a trade body before, so we will engage with others more experienced in these dark arts and report back in due course.

Watch this space.