Chris Cummings is Director General of the Association of Independent Financial Advisors, representing 85% of the UK's 30,000 IFAs and described on its website as the "voice of the profession" lobbying for a "light-touch regulatory structure". So what does Mr Cummings say to investors, many of whom put their money in to "capital secure" schemes on his members' recommendation, only to see it disappear?
The financial ombudsman service has just published its latest set of complaints generally about the financial services industry. Independent financial advisors account for less than 3% of all complaints to the ombudsman and those people who do complain, well two in three of those complaints go in favour of the firm. If I take Lehman's as an example, it was a bank that's been around for over 180 years, it's been given the highest investment and credit ratings by all the ratings agencies, there are simply levels of due diligence, levels of credibility, that I think we now apply that 18 months, two years ago simply wouldn't have been open for discussion. It's rather like suggesting that the UK government could default. There are things that you have to take as solid and stable and many IFAs did the right thing by advising their clients to come out of more risky investments, to go into things that were backed by organisations that had been around for 180 years. Because of a decision by the Bush government that organisation fell. I think there are just times when we have to say there are things that nobody could possibly anticipate.
But I mean anybody who gives financial advice has a duty to treat customers fairly, to be clear about the pros and the cons of any financial product they sell. Is it fair, is it clear, to sell a financial product to a customer without properly explaining to them that they could lose all their money if a bank guaranteeing that investment goes bust?
Well it's in nobody's interest to advice a client to take out an investment that they don't understand. Clients must understand not only what the potential upsides are but also the scale of detriment if things go wrong. The last 18 months the financial services world has been turned on its head and I think that is really at the heart of many of the problems that have been identified, that organisations for whom trust and confidence wouldn't have been a problem have seen really the basis of how they do business fundamentally challenged.
Why should anyone use or trust an independent financial advisor after hearing of what's happened to these investors when you're saying well tough, that's just the way of the world?
Well not everybody who thinks that they've lost money today may in the long term have realised that they've lost money, the stock market is recovering, so there could be some good news in there as well.