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Cold-calling campaign exposes trade body weaknesses

If an adviser screams about the unfairness of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme levy in the woods (or on the comments section of a trade website), will anybody hear? Or, to put a finer point on it, will anybody care?

For decades the answer to this question has been an assumed ‘No’, and as a result advisers have shelled out thousands of pounds in membership fees to the Association of Professional Financial Advisers, the main representative trade body for IFAs.

The dilemma facing advisers is, to put it crudely, split in two: shout from the sidelines without really engaging in the policy debate, or swallow the fact you might not like APFA’s rather quiet approach to lobbying in the hope it will provide some air cover from regulatory crackdown.

This is not only a dire choice but a false one. Every adviser now has the tools to kick start a campaign of their own. Online communities like Adviser Lounge (other websites are available) provide fertile ground for views to be shared and ideas bounced around. The Government’s petition service means anyone, from a one man band to an insurance industry chief executive, has the power to push policymakers for reform, provided they can garner enough popular support.

And social media – particularly twitter – offers an easy link with key influencers, including MPs and, most importantly, journalists.

IFA Darren Cooke’s successful campaign to ban pensions cold calling might just provide a template for lobbying in the future. Rather than homogenous groups of companies ploughing a trade body-led furrow clouded in vested interests, various parties informally coalesced around a common cause.

The fact a range of businesses and individuals from all corners of the industry backed the petition sent a powerful message to the Government, while journalists were alerted via social media and press releases to something that was blatantly in the interest of consumers.

The success of the campaign was startling, with the Government shifting from an intransigent ‘No’ to flourishing a package of measures to deter scams in a matter of months.

This is not to say that every petition will generate immediate results – far from it. The key to starting a good campaign is to find something that, first and foremost, will help punters. Ideally you should be able to explain and quantify this benefit in simple terms. Any benefit to your firm must be secondary.

But if the informal Darren Cooke lobbying model hands new power to individuals, it could simultaneously swipe it away from trade bodies such as APFA and the all-powerful Association of British Insurers. While these organisations might claim their value stretches far beyond influencing Government and regulators, this remains their primary raison d’etre.

In the cold-calling campaign, the most successful industry-led pensions lobbying effort for years, the ABI and APFA contributed nothing. In the space of five months one man did more to protect consumers and advance the reputation of the industry than these supposedly influential trade bodies managed in five years.

As power and influence becomes democratised by the internet, industry-wide collective bargaining looks clunky and ungainly.

IFAs may well be screaming at nobody in the woods, but the likes of APFA and the ABI could eventually be buried six-feet under.

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