1 History

Each issue has its roots in the history of the financial advice industry. It is not possible to understand the current issues without first understanding their history – the context in which the issues arose, the decisions that contributed to them, and the fate of past attempts to resolve them.

Expressed in a single sentence, that history tells the story of an incomplete transformation – from an industry dedicated to the sale of financial products to a profession concerned with the provision of financial advice. I say ‘incomplete’ because I do not believe that the practice of giving financial advice is yet a profession. The general weight of the evidence given to the Commission by those involved in the industry was to the same effect. Some said it is on the cusp;[1] others were, perhaps, more cautious.[2]

Despite recognition, within the industry, that the provision of financial advice is not yet a profession, those who seek financial advice do not always appreciate this. Mrs Jacqueline McDowall, who gave evidence in the Commission’s second round of hearings, had confidence in the advice that she received because she believed her financial adviser was a professional. She said:[3]

[W]e felt with his – with his professional advice, he knew what he was talking about, and we felt that, yes, we’re all – we’re all going there together, he’s looking after us.

As in many other cases, however, that confidence was misplaced. Mrs McDowall received poor advice. By the end of her experience, Mrs McDowall said:[4]

I will never, ever trust anybody again, even if they say they’re a professional this or a professional that. It’s all just to gain money for their side.

Others paid fees – sometimes large amounts, over many years – for services they were never provided. The consequences for advisers who gave poor advice, or who charged fees for no service, were often inadequate.

This state of affairs shows, and is the result of, the incomplete transformation I described above.

For some time now, a financial adviser has been something between a salesperson and a professional adviser. The industry has moved from scandal to scandal, causing financial harm to clients, and damaging public confidence in the value of financial advice. This cannot continue.

But, before considering what can and should be done about it, it is necessary to look back, to see how it came about.

[1] Transcript, Michael Wright, 20 April 2018, 1444–5.

[2] Transcript, Peter Kell, 16 April 2018, 1031.

[3] Transcript, Jacqueline McDowall, 19 April 2018, 1363.

[4] Transcript, Jacqueline McDowall, 19 April 2018, 1371.