Commentary: Long on ideals, short on ideas

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The Independent Online
About 70 life insurance training and compliance officers had the misfortune to gather at a London conference yesterday to hear industry bigwigs exchange their latest tired shots over the future of investor protection. You have heard it all before: what we need is higher standards of advice, better disclosure of charges and a simpler regulatory system. Yes, yes - but when are we going to get them?

Justice, the law reform group, today publishes its blueprint for the protection of the small investor. Justice's committee of inquiry came to the following earth-shattering conclusions: investors should have access to 'sound, reliable expert advice; honest, accurate, informative and reliable . . . promotional literature; an effective and speedy compensation system . . . ; a clear, comprehensive, straightforward and easily understandable regulatory structure'. Brilliant. But how are we to get to the promised land?

The arguments over the Personal Investment Authority - the body proposed to take on the job of protecting retail investors, replacing Fimbra and Lautro - is dragging on after many months. Andrew Large, chairman of the Securities and Investments Board, told the conference that the SIB wants the PIA to become the single regulator for the retail investment industry and is confident this will happen. He can only be that confident if he intends to compel the financial advisers, life insurers and banks to join the PIA.

Mr Large said the SIB will supervise the PIA to ensure it carries out its role. This two-tier structure is unnecessary - its only possible purpose is to sustain the myth of self-regulation, which will disappear anyway with Mr Large's insistence that a majority of the PIA board be public interest representatives.

A bit more compulsion would be welcome. Mr Large should cut short the debate and make a few decisions.

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