RDR: A Meaningless Title

I remember sitting in a well known bank branch, bored and listening to someone else’s conversation with a bank adviser some time in 2002. The trite answer of the adviser stuck in my mind as she asked for identity documentation to support anti-money laundering verification.

“We need this because of 9/11″

This was nonsense on many levels. Had this requirement come in since that date? Did she need to relieve the customer of their passport to stop them boarding and hijacking a plane? Of course not, it was just the language of someone too disinterested to say anything more constructive. She probably smacks her kids for using ‘like’ and ‘innit’ too often in sentences.

This is what RDR has become. A lazy nothing. A word which bridges ‘stuff’ and ‘financial services’. It isn’t even so specific as to be a noun, a verb or an adjective any more, sliding loosely between all three; once “The Retail Distruction Review”, then “we are concentrating on RDR” and now “it’s not very RDR”.

I put this view across in a meeting recently and someone came up with a brilliant analogy, comparing RDR to a skip. As something hired by the FSA for a specific job, the skip now finds itself filled overnight by everyone else in Financial Services Street, offloading difficult decisions never made and dodgy deals which should never have been allowed. Almost all of the ‘things which can’t continue after RDR’ have nothing to do with RDR. The rules which relate to them will not change at all. Unfortunately, the regulator is complicit in all this. Problems which should be addressed by a firm hand, are swept under the carpet, as ‘RDR will sort it out’. At least they use the Proper Noun. The recent decision to defer some of those RDR decisions, broken up into different, non-committal deadline dates fragments it further.

Whether you agree with RDR; bits of it, none of it, or don’t understand it, you must be sick of those three letters by now. It’s time to drop the acronym. If we accept, and we should, that the primary purpose of RDR – to broaden access to financial advice – has failed, then we can move on to another definition. The good stuff left in RDR, and there is still plenty of it, can be summed up in one word – Professionalism. Rather than persisting with words which have become meaningless to those of us within financial services, never mind the poor sods we are trying to convince outside the industry (remember it’s for their benefit!) why not put a name on the tin which describes what we hope it will achieve. If we keep asking the simple question “Does this make us more professional?”, we might get where we need to go quicker, easier, more successfully than we will under the label ‘RDR’. Not least because it is a word which already means something to everyone, preloaded with the right pre-conceptions. A profession is something we are not. We are a long way off. But ‘Professionalism’ is surely a common goal which we can all agree on, much more so than ‘RDR’ or, more controversially, ‘Independence’.

That’s why I think we should scrap the letters RDR. Professionalism means something to me. It was one of the original strands of RDR. I’m sure there are better words. You could argue that it’s just a word and changing the title doesn’t matter. I don’t agree. We work and think within a framework of language. We can’t conceive anything outside of it, and each word is pregnant with meaning. If we want to succeed in convincing anyone that we are heading in the right direction, we should drop the financial services insider-speak immediately and talk like real people. We might then start believing it ourselves.

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  • George Nicola

    Agree with your comments Phil. You ‘overhearing bank adviser’ is similar to providers asking for details to verify the caller prior to disclosing information…they all hide behind ‘It’s required by data protection’ when it goes waaaaaaaay above and beyond any such criteria.

  • http://www.spectrum-ifs.co.uk Wayne Slater

    Good article, but I think you have got more chance of delaying the implementation of the RDR than changing the name! Unfortunately our industry is full of abbreviations that have come to mean less due to the influence of some misguided people, with different agendas in my opinion and ‘IFA’ being one of them!
    You are spot on with the meaning of the RDR being lost and I think the only people who know what it means are the so called financial media and people working and running a business in the industry. I am all in favour of the reasons for the ‘RDR’ and considering we are in the business of communication and the RDR is supposed to benefit the ‘customer’ from now on in, it is ironic that we as a whole are not getting this message out to the masses in simpler terms “KISS” is something that is more relevant now than ever. Again good article and like the style and meaning

  • http://www.ifaportals.co.uk Oliver Phillips

    We’ve been trying to distill what RDR and TCF “actually” means to advisers and their clients alike (and how we can help our clients address it). Like you we ended up at “Professionalism” but we also had “Communication” in the mix.

    Of course you could include communication as a prerequisite of professionalism, but the world is full of people who are great at their jobs but don’t market it properly, so perhaps not?

    In any event we think these are two traits that will be as important in building successful long-term client relationships post 2013 as they are now.

    Is it “a brave new world – that’s actually just the same”?

    Great first post and nice blog site!

    • http://www.threesixtyservices.co.uk philyoung

      Great point, the problem with ‘RDR’ is it is jargon which doesn’t communicate anything.

  • http://www.yellowtail.co.uk Dennis Hall

    Phil, even you would have to admit that in a Twitter world, RDR serves a useful purpose – giving another 137 characters to explain all that is wrong with it.

    • http://www.threesixtyservices.co.uk philyoung

      You’re right, Dennis, it felt very cathartic just writing it!