One of the most iconic scenes in The Wire is the court room scene where Omar, a character who has a penchant for murdering drug dealers, is being cross examined by an especially slimy prosecution lawyer. After a couple of minutes of the lawyer lambasting our hero for living off the drug trade and creating misery Omar, or Mr Little to give him his courtroom name snaps, pointing out that the lawyer is just as guilty as he is. “I’ve got the shotgun, you’ve got the briefcase. We are all in the game.”
Incidentally, if you haven’t watched The Wire, stop what you are doing, go home, buy/download the box set and do try to keep up in future. It’s peerless television. If you ask me nicely I’ll even lend you the DVD.
If you work in financial services in any way then you are part of the financial services game. The general public finds it hard to distinguish between the different parts of the FS industry and sadly certain elements have a reputation similar to that of drug dealers (hello bankers). Whether this is valid or not is irrelevant. Everyone within financial services knows we have an image problem, and also everyone knows the only way we ultimately make money is from the end customer. It’s just a question of how removed from them you are, how transparent you are about it and whether you put the customer’s needs above your own.
Companies exist to make money and ultimately become wealth generators. This is perfectly valid, however financial services should be a special case. One of the most depressing aspects of the poor reputation we all have is that financial services should be the ultimate social industry. What is more important than saving for your future and protecting the ones you love? The answer is nothing, and unfortunately financial services has failed to recognise, and still fails to truly put the customer’s interests first.
The launch today of a consultation on pension transfers and early exit charges is a small opportunity to do something about this image problem, and make improvements that will truly benefit the customer. Make no mistake, this is big. Pension reforms have been front page news on numerous occasions, including today, and the government knows it impacts a key voter demographic. It’s not a story that is going to go away soon. However for some providers this consultation is something akin to turkeys voting for Christmas. They are being asked to help people take their money out faster, to be charged less for it, and to pay to develop seriously old systems for the privilege. With an estimated £26bn of legacy assets at stake it’s a huge issue for the industry, but one that gives us an opportunity to truly put the customer’s needs first. Exit charges are not technically obsolete, but the time is fast approaching where they will become morally so. Providers need to recognise this and go with the flow. If you need legislation before you commit to changes then it’s clear to all the type of game you are playing.