When Keith Richards stepped down as chief executive of the Personal Finance Society (PFS) in June 2021 after eight years in the role, not only was the trade body left with a power vacuum but also with a broken relationship with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).
In 2021, the news that the CII was trying to deregister the PFS as part of a cost-cutting exercise for the third time – other attempts were made in 2016 and 2019 – caused an uproar within the financial advice and planning sector. This led to widespread criticisms of the CII’s plans and to the PFS’ board voting down the measure in the summer of 2021, a week before Richards’ departure.
For a long time, the PFS was left without a leader and a figure to represent it both to members and in the media, prompting questions about its direction and how it was planning to tackle the challenges advisers and planners are facing – from increasing regulatory burdens, to skyrocketing professional indemnity insurance premiums, to an ageing industry struggling to attract new blood.
Enter Don MacIntyre.
After more than a year, MacIntyre was named interim chief executive of the PFS in August 2022. Originally from the US, with Scottish descent, he joined from self-regulating body the UK Cyber Security Council, where he served in a similar position and built the organisation from the ground up.
When attending the PFS Festival of Financial Planning 2022, International Adviser caught up with MacIntyre to talk about his plans as interim boss of the trade body, what state he found the PFS in and what the trade body should look like in the future.
The most burning issue to discuss was the relationship between the PFS and CII after the controversy of the past year.
McIntyre replied: “[The relationship] probably went on standby. There was an interim appointment at the CII after Sian Fisher left and Jonathan Clark came in.”
Clark has been president of the CII since 2018 and was named interim chief executive in January 2022. In August 2022, Alan Vallance took over as chief executive.
MacIntyre praised Clark for managing to “stabilise and calm the waters” at the CII.
Some staff left the PFS and CII, while Vallance and MacIntyre – who both started on the same day at the end of August 2022 – tried to keep things under control. “[The staff’s] reception to us was tense as we came in. Both of us didn’t know of each other, but we both looked at each other and thought ‘let’s make this work and move this forward because there’s too much to lose and so much to gain by cooperating’.”
But all these changes at the top likely didn’t reassure members on what the relationship between the two bodies has been, and many have been wondering what they are going to do to help their respective members.
“We’re looking at this with fresh eyes,” the interim boss said. “We’re looking at this from a commercial standpoint, we’re looking at this as both companies to find out what is the best relationship moving forward.”
But is the relationship mended? “No,” MacIntyre said, “But I think we’re moving in the right direction and we’re getting our boards to look at things strategically”.
“There’s more work to be done and I’m happy that it’s moving. Probably I’d like to move it faster, but in a situation like this, you’ve got to get it right, because there aren’t just the members [to think about] for both entities, there are also 200 staff, and a number of different issues. We just need to be very responsible in making sure that what we do going forward makes sense.”
But what exactly are they going to do?
During the PFS Festival around a dozen panels, presentations and talks were given on the topic of the Consumer Duty, the piece of regulation on everybody’s lips in financial services, with even the FCA sending a representative to the event to provide some clarity on what it expects from advisers and firms.
MacIntyre recognised the regulation was just one of many issues members are facing today, as they look up to their trade body for help and guidance.
“I think the members are waiting,” He said. “And all I would ask our members is for patience, I know it’s very easy for me to ask, and it’s very hard for them to give, on the basis that they’ve been around this longer than I have.
“I am building the strategy with the boards. We’re looking at bringing proper key performance indicators (KPIs), balanced scorecards, looking at building the right board structure that’s fit for purpose moving forward and a business plan that really suits the growth of the profession that we represent.”
When asked about what the biggest challenges he wants to tackle head on first are, his response was reminiscent of Rishi Sunak’s speech when he became prime minister in October 2022.
“I think it’s communication, transparency, trust, and professionalism. But I think transparency is key, being very outward with the members and speaking to them. I both had positive and negative feedback and frustration of where we’re at.”
MacIntyre did not sugar-coat his task as interim chief of the PFS and while he recognised there is a lot of work ahead of him and the PFS, he also acknowledged that “there are going to be mistakes made”.
“No CEO is perfect, but this is a chance for us to test things out and work with the members.”
What members want
One of the issues raised at the beginning of the PFS Festival was the fact that most consumers are hesitant when it comes to seeking financial advice because of the cost and wealth requirements associated with it.
“I think some of the challenges is understanding where the profession is going,” MacIntyre said. “RDR changed the model which businesses had to work under. And I still think that model is adapting and changing.
“One of the things I have been conscious of, and it’s come up a number of times, is the type of consumer that financial advisers work with – those that have a minimum pocket of wealth to start with that advisers can help build.”
But he believes the PFS has a role in helping consumers become ‘adviser ready’, help them understand how to start investing and grow their wealth to a point where they can turn to a financial adviser and meet their minimum criteria.
“I think it’s an element of bringing in people who maybe might not be that perfect consumer for many of our members now; but instead of the members having to lobby against those, it could be the PFS bringing identification that [this type of consumers] will able to have a portfolio they can go to a professional adviser with in the future,” MacIntyre continued.
He also believes that with his appointment, the trade body will once again have a spokesperson, a representative members can identify, “and I think a lot of members are keen to see that again”.
“It’s important that I begin to be clear about who the PFS is and be that banner carrier, when speaking to government, specifically the FCA and engaging them. It’s my intention to get a far more open dialogue with [the regulator] to understand their long-term positioning and also to really represent our members’ position as to what regulation could look like in the future.
“The Consumer Duty has been postponed to a certain degree, but what we need to do is make sure that our members understand what that actually means, how that can be sensibly implemented, and why it’s being done. But equally, the FCA needs to understand that there are a lot of members that are already doing a lot of this and have a great relationship with our consumers. It’s important not everybody is tagged with the negative branches.”
Attract and retain
Another area of concern for MacIntyre is what the PFS is doing to attract younger people to the advice profession. To start with, this year’s Festival was the first one to see recruiters and university career personnel attend the two-day event.
“It’s the start of actually trying to get us out there, it’s bringing attention to the profession, the profession will not grow if we keep it a secret,” MacIntyre added. “The obvious start is recruiters, speaking to secondary schools, colleges, universities. Then, focused B2B and B2C campaigns, those are things that we need to really look at and understand where the PFS sits and with that, getting the consumer aware of the profession.”
But at the moment, he said “everything is on the table”. “[We need] to take a look at what we’ve produced over the last number of years, what’s working and what’s not”. While he couldn’t confirm what initiatives will be kept and which ones will be binned, he said he aims to “move very quickly”.
“Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you have a void of leadership both on the CII and the PFS side, we’re having to move at speed.”
The first target is the creation of a short-term, three-year strategy. “Then I want to go out to share that with the members and tweak it and move it so that it makes sense and is fit for purpose for everybody.
“The initiatives are not clear yet. But it’s not to say that the initiatives that we have done in the past will be done away with, I think we’re just going to look at it and see what’s right. And those that are successful, let’s embrace them and move them on; those that are maybe not fit for purpose, we can reconsider how we look at them and consider our placement,” he added.
When talking about plans to recruit and attract younger talent to the industry, IA asked the interim chief executive if he or the PFS have plans to include any diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy in their recruitment push.
IA has been at the forefront of reporting on D&I issues within the industry for years now, especially when it comes to LGBT+ professionals and consumers.
MacIntyre said: “Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a critical element of every single industry and profession, and for me, it’s breaking down socio-economic barriers as a first instance. It’s because that naturally opens up a multitude of different pathways. It’s actively breaking down those barriers and understanding what we are doing wrong.
“It’s asking some very obvious and sometimes very hard questions, if this is going to be a stream that’s required through everything that we do. And that is getting into the areas that we haven’t previously been.”
MacIntyre is chief executive on an interim basis at the moment, but he said that is not going to stop him from addressing all the issues set out above.
And, of course, it’s still unknown whether he will want to put himself in the mix when the recruitment push for a full-time chief executive commences.
“Originally, [the board and I] looked at early 2023 to start moving towards the full-time appointment.
“I think realistically, until we have a very stable, solid movement through, the board and I have agreed that I will probably be here for some length of time.
“So, I’m not operating in the mindset of an interim, I’m operating in the mindset of a permanent, whether I’m here or not.
“My legacy in any transition that I build will be to ensure that the PFS is in a far healthier position than it was when I came. So, I am not looking at leaving anytime soon.
“It’s my commitment to the board to carry this through and build a PFS that is fit for the new strategy.”