So we came, we did it, we drank all the drinks and then we left again. And now, as the covers are pulled back over #langcatlive until the early autumn when we will – spoiler alert – do an in-person Home Game in Edinburgh, we have that nice moment of reminiscing when we can decide which memories to keep and which to throw away. For me, I’ll be keeping it all. Every bit.

I don’t know if it came across to the folk streaming the event live, or if it’ll come across on the videos that I’ll post to the lang cat’s YouTube channel just as soon as I’ve edited them, but this one felt special, and apart from how good the speakers were, that must be down to it being the first one for ages. There’s a lot I wish I could bottle from last Thursday. Though I’ll leave behind how I felt on Friday morning if that’s OK.

Anyway, bloke is happy with event, very nice, move on. No prizes for that. So in an attempt to inject some content into this week’s Update, here are a couple of the things that will stick with me.

First up, pensions minister Guy Opperman’s session with Tom McPhail was remarkable, and not just for how much his comments on Scottish pensions riled the Nats. You don’t need to wait for the video of that, by the way – Tom’s latest podcat has the interview in full. In particular, this was a reality check on how far the sector hasn’t come in making costs and charges transparent for those without a financial services background: “…this cannot continue longer term, such that the client genuinely doesn’t have any understanding of what they are paying for, because at the moment it is being run for the purposes of the business rather than the purpose of the client necessarily, or that is the impression that the clients get.”

This wasn’t an easy session, and Guy didn’t hold back on costs and charges, on British Steel, on consolidation in the workplace sector (“do I really think there will be hundreds of DC providers in five or ten years time? The answer, I can assure you, is definitely not.”) and more. The theme of our day was ‘who benefits?’ and the answer from Guy was not encouraging. The sense I got was that the attitude of government and regulator remains – sort it all out or we’ll come and make you sort it out and you might not like the way we do it when we do. This is entirely the same dialogue as when I try to get the lang kitten v1.0 to tidy her room.

As we got into the sessions with life planner Kate Shaw from FLP talking to oor Steve about consumer research, and then the panel, and then Dave Ferguson’s session, what I was left with was a really clear sense about how fortunate the 8% or so of the UK adult population who have an ongoing business relationship with an adviser that is working in their best interests are. And how hard it is for everyone else; those who treat it as a hobby aside.

I listened to stories of how infrequently planning clients bring nonsense like meme stocks or the latest footballer-endorsed cryptoshit, not because they’re not exposed to it but because they know they don’t need it. And from Dave – via the miracle of last-minute video linking owing to him getting Covid the day before because OF COURSE HE DID – we heard about the gap between an industry that understands it’s part of the chain that supports the primacy of the client and the adviser that represents her and one which still thinks that shifting product is the primary goal. Dave took – as we have done many times – pricing as a way to illustrate his points. It was a great example of why pricing matters – not so much in the exact number of basis points, but in what pricing reveals about the intent of everyone who works in between a client and her money.

My conclusion from the day was that the warning signs that I think I see in terms of how the industry – as opposed to the fully progressive end of the profession – could backslide to the bad old days (albeit with a shiny new post-RDR coat on) are there, but maybe aren’t as marked as I thought. Clients lucky enough to have an adviser on their side are fine. Those who will only ever participate in long-term savings and investments through auto-enrolment and workplace schemes are, for the most part, fine. It’s the ones in the middle who need thinking about.

POSTSCRIPT

It was great to be back together. And we’ll do more of these, and hopefully they’ll be fun too. But for them to be properly fun for everyone involved in the new, not-quite-post-pandemic world in which we’re trying to do better than we did before, everyone needs to feel welcome, secure and relaxed. That’s how the better conversations happen and how we make this sector better. It’s on everyone who attends an event to respect everyone else there, and it’s on the event organisers to make it clear that this is non-negotiable.

LANGCATLINKS

  • Big and interesting story – LV= has signed up with Embark (now part of Lloyds of course which also owns Scottish Widows) for platform services, mainly so its smoothed managed fund can be accessed on-platform, in a clear ‘hold my beer’ gesture to Prufund.
  • Really good long read with Rachel Vahey, now of AJ Bell here.
  • We’ll take your platform reviews for just a few more days, please.
  • And your music choice – well, it’s tempting to throw the intro video for #langcatlive your way but that’s not enough. So here’s Jane’s Addiction with True Nature, which would make a fine bit of walk-on music for any event.

See you next week

Mark