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Wealth Manager: Alan Steel - still fighting after 35 years
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by David Campbell on Sep 15, 2011 at 00:01
Alan Steel, scourge of Equitable Life, split cap salesmen and the commission-hungry, has paused in one of the few moments during a 90-minute interview with Wealth Manager in which the conversation is not working double time to keep up with his train of thought.
‘I don’t relish a fight, no,’ he concludes eventually, and quietly. ‘I don’t go looking for a fight. But if I see something wrong I am not going to keep quiet about it.’
Some of those who have found themselves facing him in the opposing corner might have grounds to dispute that of course, and certainly Howard Davies, head of the FSA through the split cap crisis, felt sufficiently bruised by the experience that he refused to be in the same room as him.
Steel is much more than an indiscriminate bruiser, however: the fights he has picked have ultimately seen him vindicated on the right side of history and the law – from the high profile scandals to his more implicit rejection of the churning that was the rule in financial advice through much of his career.
But he continues to hold large swathes of the financial services industry, and those appointed to regulate them, in fairly low regard. He adds it would be naïve to expect much substantial change to the undercurrent of sharp practices in financial distribution as a result of the retail distribution review (RDR).
‘I find mis-selling f**king despicable,’ he says. ‘There has been this culture of salesmanship – being a bit of a lad – [that] has been rewarded for far too long. In law, the law of agency, I am the agent of my client. My primary responsibility is to the client: that is the letter of the law.
‘A bank adviser is the agent of the bank, and it’s same for all these organisations, Allied Dunbar, Abbey Life, why should clients be stuck getting ripped off by them? IFAs knew what was going on with all these companies, so why did they place business with them? They should have put them out of business.’
Steel puts equal moral responsibility on the authorities for their failure to get to grips with the reality of distorted incentivisation however, and says they have demonstrated a selective blind eye.