A Piece of Mind: Liz Field

Jenny Schuster

InterviewPiece of MindWealth Management and Private Banking

This week the Owen James Group took the opportunity to catch up with Liz and find out what she and the WMA are doing to help wealth managers sleep more easily at night.

liz-field-smaller.jpgLiz Field is the chief executive of the Wealth Management Association (WMA). With over fifteen years of experience in running skills trade associations in the financial services sector, Liz has become a real presence in the wealth management world.


What would you say are the three biggest challenges facing the industry, and what is the WMA doing about this?

Members tell me the biggest challenges facing the industry are regulation, cybercrime and the decrease in profit margins. In terms of what the WMA is doing on this front, from a regulatory perspective we are helping the industry in two main ways. Firstly we provide influence at the sharp end on policy issues, providing information about the industry, the unintended consequences of a line of text perhaps that might impact the sector and lobbying at a European and National level. Secondly, we provide insight, analysis and information about the interpretation of regulation and compliance so firms are best prepared to respond as well as being a route into the Regulator on issues of clarification or challenge.

When it comes to cybercrime, we provide online information and training for member firms, an alert system on threat to forewarn firms and we have wealth forum, which we have set up with the NCA to exchange information and guidance on dealing with the latest criminal techniques and threats. From the profitability and squeeze on margins – we are advocating for the industry, highlighting that the cost of compliance is a huge drain for firms, most of which are stand-alone divisions of larger organisations, medium or small businesses.

We provide insight on best practice, guidance on compliance issues and educate provider of services on these issues so that they can help member firms: this all helps businesses reduce the costs of doing business. In the policy space, our successes at the European level have included a reduction in costs by preventing policy, which would have had an adverse effect on wealth management.

In the lead up to each event we ask our audience what their biggest concern is facing both their business and the industry as a whole. Almost without fail, the answer we get is ‘coping with regulatory changes and compliance’. 

With the technical paper for MIFID II expected shortly, what advice would you give wealth managers?

The MIFID timetable has been adjusted and is now expected to follow the below timeline:

  •          October 2015: ESMA Technical Advice
  •          December 2015: FCA consultation on implementing MIFID II
  •          January 2016: EU legislation on MIFID II implementing measures
  •          June 2016:  FCA policy statement  on MIFID II implementation
  •          3 July 2016: National transposition deadline
  •          3 January 2017: MIFID II and II to be applied within member states.

Oh! And the review of MIFID II starts in 2017, so anything we are not happy with, we are starting gather evidence to try and change it through lobbying! So much is unknown. The WMA held surgeries with our members in quarter one this year and the results of this have been fed into the FCA, HMT and the EU. We have an emerging project bible which provides interpretation of the rules and common agreed approaches and have continuous MIFID II briefings, as well as video briefings due on the website shortly.

Are you in any conversation with the Regulator regarding the uncertainty in the industry and the sentiment that wealth managers feel like they are often operating within a regulatory ‘grey area’?

We have a good relationship with the Regulator, which involves us in both challenging policy or supervisory decisions as well as supporting their stance. For example, our member firms have indicated that 80% of what has come out of the Regulator is good business. This helps raise standards and the standing of our industry. The grey area rises on a number of occasions, including thematic reviews, which start from the basis that all firms are the same. There is no surprise then that the results of such reviews bear little relationship to the reality or the results relate to a part of the financial services sector that most wealth management firms would not identify themselves with.

Our work with the FCA also involves informing them of the different business models within wealth management, outlining the differences in types of firms and working proactively with them so that things like thematic reviews start from the right place.

What do you think we can expect from the change of leadership with regards to the FCA?

Change. The recent Financial Advice Market Review announced in early August is a clear sign that we can expect significant change over the next year.

What would you do if you were in the FCA’s shoes?

Actively listen to the industry. Whilst 80% of regulation is good business management, we need to figure out what the 20% is that is not good business and how we can bring the pendulum back. At the moment it is too far to the right.

What differentiates the WMA from other professional associations and trade bodies?

Our focus is on wealth management and not on banking or funds; that rests with other trade associations. There are three main associations in this space: BBA, IA and WMA. The BBA covers banks, the Investment Association covers funds and the WMA covers the wealth management.  We do share members and work collaboratively. We have an agreement with the BBA on areas where we take the lead, where they take the lead and what we do together and have regular meetings with them.

The WMA are very active in Europe, how do you think the industry and London’s position will be affected by Brexit?

This will soon be a debate on our board. We are currently signed up to the Treaty and we play by the rules. If the rules change we will take a look at the new rules and re-evaluate.

Image and the public perception of wealth managers is something that is receiving quite a bit of attention in the post-recession climate. What would you say the industry needs to do re-engage the trust of the public?

Education is a very powerful medium to both enable and empower individuals. For our firms this can range from providing briefings to clients on what is happening in the market through to teaching them what investment means, types of investment vehicles, or involves talking to client’s children about things that will affect them in the future in a safe environment.  Internships and graduate placements are important to grow talent but we must make  sure that these are fairly won and not following old-boys’ club stereotype.. 

The WMA are working with the BBA to produce careers information on roles within the private banking/ wealth management sector, which we aim to put on our website and cascade to firms for them to use as appropriate.

We are planning our joint activity in this space for 2016, where we can act as catalysts and facilitators for the wealth management firms.

On a broad level, what developments can wealth managers expect over the next five years from both a regulatory perspective and a market-potential perspective?

There are the outcomes from MIFID II which I highlighted previously that will unfold over the next three years. The Capital Markets Union is high on the agenda for the Commissioner Lord Hill and this has a private investor perspective and thus some opportunities for our sector. This will emerge in the next five years. We are expecting more policy on anti-money laundering and data protection. This will be big for the sector.

The Financial Advice Market Review presents a big opportunity for our sector, given that we have approximately 13,000 professionally qualified advisers. Additionally, the pensions’ tax reform consultation on the back of the pension freedoms this year will present opportunities for those in this space. We also expect growth in digital, new technology and client expectations.  These have been well explored at the Meeting of Minds and need to be actively explored and embraced by wealth managers.

What do you think makes this profession so great?

It’s all about the people. We take the pride in the value we can bring and take pride in knowing that the responsibility we have is serious – we are dealing with people’s livelihoods.

What has been your inspiration over the years?

There isn’t just one. I have worked with some amazing people, real stalwarts in the industry, and have a lovely supportive family. But I would say key to my inspiration is that knowledge that what we do adds value to individuals and to businesses.  Wealth Management is all about preserving and growing individual assets – it is a responsibility and that gives it value. If you have a belief in what you are doing, it will inspire you.

Any closing comments or feedback on initiatives the WMA is currently working on?

We have two new people at the WMA – a head of events and a head of research. Watch this space as we implement our strategy launched earlier this year.


Liz Field will be attending and delivering a presentation along with Eric Leenders of the BBA at the Owen James A Meeting of Minds – Wealth Management, Private Banking & Multi Family Offices XVIII on 19 November at The Berkeley Hotel in London.