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Are you a criminal?

Advisers cheerfully criticise the work of other advisers, but if they are all right then everyone in the adviser business is doing it wrong, and no-one can be trusted. That cannot literally be true. If that is the feeling consumers get then it will undermine a valuable common commodity which we all share: public trust in the idea of getting advice.

Wednesday, March 5th 2014, 11:33AM 2 Comments

by Russell Hutchinson

Most advisers are happy to tell you stories of dreadful advice. Sometimes it actually is dreadful, but some isn’t, and some is merely incomplete or insufficient.

In fact often you can hear an adviser describe the work of another adviser by saying “It’s criminal” that they did such and such…I know it is just a figure of speech, but the feeling behind it suggests that, well, the adviser genuinely believes that it is criminal. That’s unfortunate, because if it really is that bad then you need to do everyone a favour and make a complaint.

Maybe we should accept that when we get to view another adviser’s handiwork we may be looking at it in quite a strange way. We may be hearing about it without the client being completely clear about the limitations they placed on the adviser, without the context of the information at the time, and with the benefit of plenty of hindsight.

Rushing out the immediate judgement may not be helpful, ether to the industry, or to you. Even if the advice were genuinely poor, this may be a decision that the client was quite involved in. Especially if the poor advice were in part the result of a limitation the client created (too little budget, too closed-minded about some types of cover), then you may be offering more of a rebuke the to the client than the former adviser. That could mean they walk away from your review, and they may not even tell you why.

On the other hand, even if the client were led to a conclusion with which you disagree, provided it is not an actual breach, casually using a word like “criminal” could make a mountain out of a mole-hill.  It can make the client doubt the entire advice process: can I ever get it right?

Almost every insurance programme looks bad compared to the ideal, and that’s why there is so much scope to criticise the work of others. But the ideal often wasn’t the alternative the client was considering when they took out that cover. The alternative may have been ‘nothing’ or ‘worse.’

That’s not to say you shouldn’t focus on improving on it. That’s your duty – improve, improve, improve! But a good strategy might be to strive to find something positive to say about the past choices the client made with their last adviser, and then build from there, pointing out how much better the plan could be.

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Comments from our readers

On 5 March 2014 at 6:58 pm concerned stakeholder said:
Well said Russell. I was always taught (back in the 80's) never to criticize the current advise as it;s tantamount to criticizing the client. You're almost saying "Why did you do that you dummy" also it's not professional to criticize your fellow advisers. How can we build a profession if we behave like used car salesmen. AS you rightly point out you should always congratulate your client for doing what they did do and then build and improve. And yes if you think it was "criminal" keep it to yourself and report it to the FMA.
On 6 March 2014 at 11:37 am Mac said:
Well said "concerned stakeholder".

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