Entering financial services lottery

A number of factors are propelling firms to reconsider the question of financial services within practices, whether or not they are involved. There is certainly an upsurge in interest, not least stimulated by the debate on conveyancing.

Within the next year, firms thinking about taking the plunge into discrete investment business, and those already involved, will have to decide whether to advise on “retail branded products” only or the more sophisticated securities and portfolio services. And they will have to get their 'qualified person' in place.

Some of the 900 firms carrying out discrete investment business may decide that the extra obligations are not worth it and adopt the permitted third party route.

But before entering, firms must do some basic thinking. Financial services can fit neatly with probate and trust work, will writing, conveyancing, litigation, divorce work and so on. The incentive must be to meet clients' needs, rather than just the lure of extra revenue. Entering the field is still a commercial decision with no guarantee of success.

In the broader scheme of things, the battle for independent financial advice is being fought in the high streets and the ranks of independent advisers are expected to shrink further with new disclosure, which law firms already meet.

The pensions transfer debacle shows that things can go badly wrong in financial advice, but the profession's compensation levels are the best available, if that is a good selling point.

The Law Commission's study of compensation awards shows that banks and building societies are the biggest source of advice for those obtaining personal injury awards. Can lawyers be sure any more that they can issue big award cheques without making financial enquiries and be immune from criticism about looking after clients, or worse? Even pool winners get financial advice, so why shouldn't winners in the lottery of litigation?