Probate Research needs regulation by Government
Joe Lander, our Business Development Manager, worked for many years for leading financial services companies. Unlike the probate genealogy sector, financial services are regulated by the Government. In this article, Joe gives his views on regulation. He concludes that regulation would raise standards in probate research and help drive out the many cowboy ‘heir hunters’.
I have come from a regulated industry. Not just any regulated industry but a highly regulated one.
The UK financial services sector is one of the world’s most intensely regulated markets with its three main objectives being:
- protecting the consumer;
- promoting healthy competition between financial services providers;
- maintaining industry stability and confidence (particularly following the 2008 financial crisis).
All firms who wish to operate financial services in the UK must be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. It’s not negotiable.
This is replicated in other professional services sectors and industries across the UK. In fact some sectors have more than one regulatory body.
In England and Wales, the Solicitors Regulation Authority regulates solicitors and law firms in order to serve the public interest and protect consumers. In accountancy, the regulatory body is the Financial Reporting Council. This regulates auditors, accountants and actuaries, promoting transparency and integrity.
A major regulatory milestone within the Financial Services industry was the creation of a single third-party regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA). This came into force in 2001, so it’s not as long ago as you might think. It later became the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Regulation has since become deeply ingrained within the industry. It now forms the very bedrock of the marketplace. This allows firms to operate with reassurance and confidence as well as ensuring fair outcomes for consumers.
Regulation shouldn’t be confused with interference. The financial services sector in the UK is entrepreneurial so overly heavy-handed regulation would stifle it; therefore, it needs to be handled with a velvet glove.
Having said that, it must be strong enough to act when the time comes, as this article shows.
A strong but fair regulator is to no-one’s detriment. Rather than a nuisance, a regulator provides a framework for firms to operate within. Some even compare regulators to parents – protecting, providing and encouraging their offspring.
A framework ensures a level playing field, meaning that all participants are abiding by the same rules. This enables conformity across the market and consistency for the consumer.
FCA regulation is more than a simple register. Firms and individuals undergo strenuous tests and checks to ensure suitability. Authorisation is by no means guaranteed and firms have to demonstrate a clear understanding of what is expected of them. It’s not for the faint hearted but without authorisation you are not allowed to practice.
When you look at the probate genealogy research industry in the UK what’s most striking is the lack of anything remotely similar. There is no industry-wide regulating body so there are none of the checks and balances I’ve mentioned.
Of course, there is the Association of Probate Researchers (APR), set up back in June 2016 and this is certainly a step in the right direction. The APR aims to bring regulation to the professional probate research industry, including professional standards and an ethics code.
Currently the APR membership consists of employees from Anglia Research, Fraser & Fraser, Treethorpe and Pro-Gen Research. Crucially, membership cannot simply be purchased. There are 8 rigorous criteria which must be met to join, including competence testing. These can be seen here.
However, without all firms being included there is not a level playing field. Regulation only really works when all companies in a sector are subject to it. The only surefire way of achieving this is for the Government to make regulation compulsory. Self-regulation is not enough.
A regulator can only be a positive thing, for all those involved in the industry and those that access it, whether a beneficiary, a law firm or a local authority. A regulator upholds standards, ensures healthy competition, and shines a light on the great professional work undertaken by all those in the industry. Probably most importantly of all, an industry regulator provides protection to consumers.
It should also be remembered that regulating bodies can provide help and support to members; it’s not all a one-way street of rules and restrictions.
Why wouldn’t any self-respecting firm in our industry want to look after and reassure consumers and business clients? Who wouldn’t want to create a stable and reliable market for all. Who wouldn’t welcome competition to help lift standards?
Even the legal sector was once self-regulated, although that was back in the 19th Century. So, isn’t it time we moved away from the “Wild West” and started replicating what other professional services industries have been doing for years (in some cases centuries) and raise our industry standards?
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