James Moore: The golfer-turned-financial adviser in a drive to clean up his industry's act
This is not a self-interest campaign. It is about facing the issues the industry has created
Trust in financial services would appear to be something of an oxymoron. After a string of scandals, not to mention a devastating financial crisis, the industry sits at a particularly low ebb. But a Nottingham financial adviser who started life as a golf pro thinks he can change that.
Shane Mullins is rather unusual in his profession. He admits that he works in an industry that has suffered from a number of largely self-inflicted wounds.
"Really, there has been far too much innovation in product, far too little in service," he says of the industry he has worked in for more than 20 years. "If you reward the wrong type of behaviour, then that's what you'll get it. Rewards are a big part of the problem. In a classic Plc structure, your job is balancing all stakeholders and that includes your customers.
"But in a study of 200 leading ceos, only 25 per cent cited the consumer as key. To my mind, a business either makes a product or provides a service for consumers. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many ceos managing share-option schemes and not managing in the interests of clients. These are some of the issues we need to tackle."
Heady stuff from a representative of an industry that has all too often attacked the media for highlighting its problems rather than addressing them even as the fines and opprobrium from regulators and the public have rained down on it.
Mr Mullins says it is this, among other things, he wants to change. He says he was inspired by a book written by Jack Bogle, a luminary of the US mutual fund industry, called Enough, which has some hard words for the industry. Bogle ruminates on greed, excess and other failings he says combined to produce the economic crisis that remains with us. He argues for a return to what he argues were 18th-century values: stewardship, integrity, leadership, character.
Says Mr Mullins: "In an industry that has such capacity to do very great good and very great evil, somebody's got to do something to make sure the first one dominates. I have spoken to lots of people, to heavy-duty business people, who say this is timely, that it is so important. I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it because if you look at the current situation, somebody had to act."
Mr Mullins himself runs Fiscal Engineers, an advisory business. It is what many would argue is the model for an adviser – it doesn't take commission, relying instead on its clients paying fees that are agreed upfront.
It operates at the upper end of the market, employing a chartered accountant and three chartered financial planners. As such, those lower down the food chain might be a little wary. The involvement of the Institute of Financial Planning, a trade body that some advisers see as slightly pious, may not help.
But Mr Mullins is unapologetic: "Look, this is not a self-interest campaign. It is about facing the issues the industry has created. We are engaging with academics, for example, and not from a purely commercial standpoint. This is an industry that is founded on its promise, and what consumers need is straight dealing so that promise can be fulfilled."
Those academics would be from the Nottingham University Business School, whose Financial Services Forum has produced a Trust index that hasn't made happy reading for the industry.
Mr Mullins is now banging the drum, seeking converts and, crucially, financial backers with the power to push his campaign into the mainstream of debate.
It's a big ask. Previous industry-led initiatives have floundered on the rocks of apathy or an unwillingness to do much more than talk. At the same time, the big players are very much focused on navel-gazing. Few are even willing to admit they have a problem.
Mr Mullins remains unbowed. He left school to become a golf pro but admits he wasn't good enough to become even a journeyman on the European tour (although he has beaten a one-time member of it). A brief, and unhappy, stint in the building trade followed before he followed his brother into financial services.
Can he convince his reluctant fellows? He aims to try: "I can't change the past but what we can do is shape a different future. There will be rogue elements in anything but what I really want to see is a humble industry response to facing the issues we have created. That's our challenge: to arrest the trust deficit that exists with consumers."
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