Within the advertisement-adorned walls of various London Underground platforms, any commuter with their eyes not glued to a smartphone screen may notice a certain advert.
Among the throngs of wall pastings promoting health, love, entertainment, the arts and travel there is one for the not so sexy but important notion of financial planning.
The traditional-style advert is part of a more modern campaign extolling the virtues of chartered status via Twitter, under the hashtag #choosechartered, and via a YouTube video posted by Wales-based financial firm Thomas Carroll Group.
While the campaign harnesses the powers of modern marketing technology to get its message across, chartered status dates back to medieval times. “The concept of chartered professionalism traces its roots back many centuries, to the years following the Norman invasion in 1066,” according to the CII’s website.
But as we stand on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution where robo-advice offerings and complex algorithms abound, does the chartered certification still represent the gold standard or is it at risk of becoming outdated? And do chartered financial planners still offer the best solutions to those seeking financial advice? And especially to those not in the high-net-worth category.
Those waving the banner of chartered status will no doubt claim that it is more important and relevant today than ever given the regulatory obsession with standards and ethics following recent miss-selling scandals. Chartered status has long been regarded as the ultimate mark of integrity and professionalism.
The advert at Holborn Underground ominously asks London’s commuters: “How will you know who to trust?” It goes on to say that “chartered financial planners earn the title by demonstrating their commitment to deep technical knowledge and solid professional ethics”.
Meanwhile, the CII has recently looked to cement its professional standing by upping the requirements for firms holding the chartered status. And its proposal at the end of last year to introduce a new model in response to the Financial Advice Market Review called the STAR system — which aims to make financial advice more accessible — shows an institute looking to adapt to the changing advice landscape.
But downtrodden investors seeing their holdings plunge in value amid the current market turmoil may question whether the fees paid for a chartered financial planner represent value for money. Add with various robo-advice players now offering automated advice for a fraction of the cost, such questions can quickly turn to hard doubts!
The return of the banks to the arena of low cost advice is also an intriguing shift for the industry.
Meanwhile, the rise of robo is not the only potential threat facing chartered advisers.
Consumers are increasingly making their own investment decisions and going directly to online brokers, some of whom are tailoring their offerings to mass market and middle market investors.
Indeed, the latest report by CoreData Research into the Isa market shows that advisers and financial intermediaries are facing stiff competition from online providers, with nearly half of investors now choosing to buy their stocks and shares Isa from an online broker.
The study, which captures the attitudes of 3,000 investors in the UK, further reveals that this disinclination to seek advice is especially pronounced in London, with just 9% of investors based in the capital getting their stocks and shares Isa from a financial adviser.
And with online brokers offering a wealth of information and literature — be it news, market and investment updates, recommended fund lists etc — the autonomous investor has probably never had it so good. So those unable or unwilling to pay fees now have other options.
The fee question has obviously come into sharper focus in the wake of the RDR. The introduction of a fee-based model as part of the regulatory carve-up has disenfranchised large swathes of investors and created the now widely-acknowledged ‘advice gap’.
And as the gulf between those consumers in need of financial advice and those who can actually afford the fees grows, the gap threatens to become a gaping chasm.
Nothing better illustrates the extent and urgency of the advice gap — or advice gulf — than the fact that the FCA is now considering reintroducing commission on certain products in what would amount to a fundamental reversal of RDR.
So viewed against this hostile background of plunging markets, a growing advice gap, the rise of robo and an investor more inclined to act autonomously, chartered financial planners perhaps face one of their toughest tests yet.
The challenge now confronting the CII is that of convincing a more diverse investor base that the chartered status represents genuine value for money.
And that is perhaps what we are seeing with the London Underground campaign.
Whether or not the campaign will have any impact on London’s stressed out commuters is perhaps less important than the fact that it is there in the first place.
It hints at a CII fighting to maintain the prestige and importance of the chartered standard in today’s very different world.