Paul Lewis has hit a raw nerve with many in the financial services industry. His piece about the transparency of charging here (and let’s remember he’s not having a pop at advisers specifically) has caused much consternation below the line and on his twitter timeline.

I imagine Paul had never expected such a fierce reaction, yet I also suspect he’s quite pleased with himself too. As Money Marketing will be as they see the page impressions mount up (as an aside, they’d probably have substantially more impressions if they sorted out their new registration requirements “grrr“).

On reading the article I thought it made some good points about the charging structures in our profession.

Yes, the analogy is a bit wide of the mark and a bit clumsy from a purist’s perspective.

Yes, the comparisons are unfair in places and may even be insulting to some (if you choose to take offence).

But one thing’s for certain. WE DO HAVE AN ISSUE IN THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE THE MYRIAD CHARGES at play across our sector. Have a bash at arguing everything is rosy if you want, but know you’re just plain wrong if you do.

Perception is king. And generally, people who engage with our profession, whether through advice or direct perceive us to be a bunch of shysters out to fleece them of their hard earned. Poor us. Life’s just so unfair eh!

Now, you know that’s not true as much as I do. Our profession exists to ensure people make the most of their money; to protect them and to look after them financially throughout their lives. But it doesn’t matter what we think. What matters is what people paying for the products and services think. All that Paul was doing was holding a consumer mirror up to our faces and forcing us to take a good hard look. And what we saw wasn’t pretty.

And that’s where the reaction to Paul’s article could be more dangerous than the piece itself. Consumers know the people who buy our stuff will read Paul’s piece (likely nodding profusely as they do) and then wander down to the comments. Their negative perceptions will then be reinforced by the comments they read. They’ll see a bunch of industry folk defending current practices and attacking Paul’s lack of knowledge and calling his journalistic integrity into question. Put yourself in the shoes of someone outside the industry for a moment and read the comments from their perspective. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see how counterproductive they are. They do nothing to convince the casual reader that we recognise problems exist within our little village and that we work our socks off, day-in day-out, to help people understand the issues.

Surely a better approach would be to point out that Paul has a general point about the opaque nature of charges? Recognise there are some flawed and clumsy analogies. But also recognise that many potential customers have similar views.

After all: knowing the barriers to engagement is vital in overcoming them.

Henry Tapper is right in his reaction piece here.

Paul is actually doing us a favour.