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Q&A with PFS CEO Keith Richards

Financial Planning Today caught up with Personal Finance Society CEO Keith Richards about his impending departure from the professional body, how he sees the Financial Planning profession’s state of health and his plans for the future.

Financial Planning Today: What made you decide to leave the PFS and what do you plan to do next?

Keith Richards: There is rarely a right time to leave when there is often more to be done but most of my early goals and aspirations for the evolution of the society, its membership and in supporting the CII’s change programme have largely been realised, so now feels like the right time and equally allows the CII to further implement changes. 

Shortly after taking up the position of chief executive, the PFS board agreed to a strategic transformation to evolve the role and purpose of the Society to become a more modern, relevant and inclusive professional body and whilst many of our initial goals have been exceeded, I am sure that the vision will continue will continue. 

Having helped many IFA businesses prepare and adapt in the lead up to the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) prior to joining the PFS, it seemed both logical and essential for the sector’s largest professional body to evolve its own role and purpose in line with that of the changing needs of its members and the clients they serve. Underpinning this change was the evident need to create greater engagement with members, policymakers and the public. 

Members – significant development and enhancements to our professional programmes and events over the past eight years has seen attendance numbers increase tenfold to become the largest and most successful programme for Financial Planners. The inaugural Festival of Financial Planning brought together over 3,300 professionals in one location and our digital programme and ‘good practice’ guide’s hub has seen growing traffic and downloads each year – as has downloads from our Financial Planning hub, Power.

Policymakers – as well as regular interaction with government and regulators on all the key policy consultations since 2013, the FCA, TPR and FOS have regularly been part of the PFS regional programme delivering examples of good practice and providing a first-hand opportunity for members to engage directly. Instrumental in the FAMR, I was the only sector representative on the government’s Pension Freedoms implementation group and participated in a number of working groups.

Public Engagement – the PFS now has the largest ‘accredited’ adviser directory used by consumers in the UK and has launched a number of public interest pro-bono programmes, including MoneyPlan, Forces MoneyPlan and My Personal Finance Skills which provide greater visibility of the role of professional Financial Planning, whilst giving back to the local communities the profession serves. I’ve been a regular commentator in national personal finance media and launched a Financial Wellbeing production with ITN News productions.

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Financial Planning Today: What do you believe are your most important achievements in your time at the PFS?

KR: Supporting the sector move from an industry to a recognised and acknowledged profession and of course the evolution of the Personal Finance Society to be a recognised modern, relevant and inclusive professional body to all stakeholders. I am very proud of the success and impact of the multiple initiatives throughout the past eight years but most of all I am proud of the impact a relatively small but committed team that delivered it all…they have been amazing! 

I must add my thanks to the PFS board, our regional volunteers, practitioner panel, members and of course a fantastic and committed team for their support and guidance in the evolution of the PFS over the past eight years – it has been a united success and a privilege to have been at the helm during such a key period of transformation for the profession.

Financial Planning Today: What do you think are the biggest opportunities for the Financial Planning profession over the next 5 years?

KR: Simply put, increasing consumer need and demand for the services the profession provides. The UK had one of the lowest savings rations according to ONS pre-Covid and the lack of financial resilience is now impacting people’s lives as evidenced by the results of the FCA’s Financial Lives survey – government and regulators have a public duty to raise financial education and awareness to the top of the agenda.

Post Brexit, the government sees the importance to the economy of having a vibrant financial services sector recognised both in the UK and internationally, which should be good news for the Financial Planning profession.

The first stab at increasing access to advice via the Financial Advice Market Review (FAMR), which was abruptly interrupted by Brexit, must be revisited via a FAMR II to conclude unfinished work. Many of the issues impacting the ‘advice-gap’ with the government’s FAMR, which included PII and FSCS, have got worse and it’s time to remind the government that the FAMR was their initiative from a public interest perspective.

The Personal Finance Profession will always face challenges but the future as a recognised and increasingly united profession looks bright as demand will follow need.

Financial Planning Today: And what are the biggest challenges?

KR: A hardening PII market and the ever increasing cost of regulation remains the biggest challenge for the sector and the unfinished objectives of the FAMR must be picked up by government. Time for the whole sector to ask their MPs to support a call for FAMRII and put the public’s financial wellbeing at the centre of public policy to make sure we do build back better.

Financial Planning Today: If you could fix one thing for the Financial Planning profession today what would it be?

KR: Uniting the profession – whilst great progress has been made there is still too much fragmentation which in itself impacts trust in the sector and will continue to attract levels of over-regulation impacting good outcomes for all.

Doing something about poor practice is a professional duty we all share but socialising anecdotal examples of individual views of poor practice can have an impact on the perceptions of everyone – unfortunately perceptions become peoples reality, real or not.

Financial Planning Today: What future professional challenges are you looking forward to next?

KR: I am passionate about the profession and the role Financial Planning plays in society, it genuinely has the power to change peoples lives for the better. I intend to continue as chair of the Financial Vulnerability Taskforce which already has 700 individuals/firms who have adopted the Charter and Consumer guide and I would like to put more energy into an ‘independent’ Charter the whole profession and wider sector can adopt as their own. The very different approach we have taken over vulnerable circumstances rather than vulnerable customers has the potential to influence outcomes for the better and engage more consumers in the value of Financial Planning. This will be a pro-bono role and allows me to give back to both the profession and public alike and I will be considering other opportunities during the summer. Beyond that…let’s watch this space!

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