On February 22nd, 2021, Women in Business Bocconi hosted an event with Giulia Armellini, a speaker from Consultique, an independent financial consulting firm based in Italy to discuss the changing dynamics of the asset management industry and the issues with the current bank-centered economy in Italy and several other European countries. Here is an article by Valentina Piersensini, a member of the WIB Consulting Divison, with their take on the meeting and what was discussed.
INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL CONSULTING: THE ETHICAL APPROACH TO ASSET MANAGEMENT
In Italy, 98% of private savings are not efficiently invested, meaning that they do not meet their reference benchmark’s expectations. This means that the vast majority of financial investments are too expensive, putting the consultant’s fee above the return on investment for clients.
Bank-sponsored financial advisors make money based on what financial assets they sell to their clients and usually, they profit more by selling riskier financial instruments.
In our bank-centered financial system, private portfolio investments and asset management activities are habitually carried out through banks and financial institutions whose primary aim can easily be identified as making more profits. Thus, even though bank consultants are frequently identified as the clients’ “trustees”, the conflicts of interest between the client’s real necessities and the potential margin of gain make them straightforwardly comparable to mere sales agents. Hence, a legitimate question might arise: is the whole system unreliable? This is the exact point where independent financial consulting comes in to fill the gap.
The first Italian independent financial consulting firm, Consultique, was founded in 2001 with the aim of making impartial investments on behalf of their clients at a fixed-fee, to avoid potential clashes of interest. On a national level, England and Holland were the first countries to follow Consultique’s founding principle by banning advisory fees in asset management after the 2008 global financial crisis. This shows that the need for a more transparent investment management system is growing, however, in countries like Italy, the process is a lot slower and even with new legislation (like the MIFID II), regulators and the authorities in charge of enforcing the law tend to be more permissive towards banks and large institutions. The whole point of independent consulting is to offer an ethically transparent service that, so far, is very hard to find in banks and financial intermediaries.
To become an independent financial consultant in Italy, a specific exam has to be taken to gain an official certification by the “Organismo dei Consulenti Finanziari” (OCF) and to be registered in the apposite record (CFA - Autonomous Financial Consultants). It is worth noting that the definition of “autonomous” instead of “independent” has been chosen to not diminish the role of bank-affiliated consultants, who are technically “Non-Independent Financial Consultants”.
It is clear that independent financial consulting is gaining lots of momentum and will keep growing as awareness and a need for transparency in private investments rise. This seems to be the beginning of a much-needed revolution in the financial advisory field, will it be enough to shift the attention from banks’ profits to clients and their needs?