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.