Twenty years later, perhaps my food retail analogy is about to make sense

It must be at least twenty years ago that I came up with the food retail analogy, mainly in an attempt to cheer myself up about the potential for brand development in financial services.

I’m not saying it was original – I’m sure lots of other people came up with it too, and probably for the same reason.  But I do think I came up with it independently, rather than just nicking it from somewhere.

Anyway.  “What is it?”, I hear you cry.  “You know perfectly well,” I say.  “It’s the analogy that says that if Tesco won’t give Kelloggs a gondola-end display without knowing how much Kelloggs are going to spend on advertising to encourage consumer demand, then before too long powerful intermediaries will be asking similar questions before recommending Standard Life or Schroders.”

For nineteen years and seven months, the fly in this analogy’s ointment has been the principle – and arguably the practice – of independence.  For as long as most advisers were independent, most were genuinely indifferent to the question of consumer awareness and attitudes towards the brands they recommended.   If they presented their recommendations with enough conviction, most clients would accept that unknown Skandia was a better choice than household-name Prudential.  And if the odd client did find it hard to accept this, the adviser could always switch to Prudential anyway.  The fact is, no-one was ever able to prove that positive consumer awareness and attitudes made any difference to advisers’ propensity to recommend – and without that proof, the food retail analogy falls down like a tin-can pyramid in a sit-com supermarket.

But now look at the whole subject again in the new world of restricted advice.  As we all know, “restricted” is probably the slipperiest term in the whole slippery history of financial services, making the average skating-rink seem more gripping than the new Dan Brown novel.  (Not a good analogy – most things are more gripping than that.)  But for many firms, “restricted” means choosing one, or at most a very few, manufacturers to provide a products of a particular type.  They’ll do a deal with, say, one provider of specialised annuities, or one provider of tracker funds, or three providers of income drawdown facilities.  And what’s more, these deals will often have several years’ duration, offering the providers market access, and effectively market share, far into the future.

Big restricted advice firms negotiating deals like that will be horrible.  They’ll demand everything they can possibly think of – most of all, of course, large quantities of money in whatever forms and guises are acceptable to the regulator.  But just to be on the safe side – just to make sure they haven’t committed themselves to putting forward a brand which some clients, even if only a few, have a problem with – don’t you think they might not start asking that same question that Tesco ask Kelloggs, “So what are you doing to make my customers want your stuff?”?


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