The FASEA acronym is an embarrassing affront to the very education standards the committee is trying to promote.

Not the group itself, mind you. They seem like a capable lot. But the shortened version of the Financial Standards and Ethics Authority name – FASEA – presents a veritable conundrum of phonetic landmines that is reducing us all to linguistic plodders, tripping over our tongues in a vain attempt at consistency.

At first, advisers seemed to find common ground in pronouncing it FA-SEE-YA, with a hard FA and the kind of SEE-YA you’d sling to colleagues on a Friday afternoon. FA-SEE-YA had the advantage of being phonetically straightforward, so it sounded like it looked. It wasn’t particularly dignified and you’d never accuse it of being sophisticated, but it was simple and provided firm footing. For advisers struggling to remember the life story of 100 clients, this was like Obama with his plain black suits: nothing fancy, but one less thing to think about every day.

Then we started messing about with it.

I suspect the first adviser to deviate from FA-SEE-YA did so by accident. After bleating to his colleagues about the injustice of impending education standards, he probably then fumbled his way through the name of the mob he was blaming. The advisers within earshot must have thought they were doing it wrong, and the uncertainty spread from ground zero to the masses, like a virus. We all proceeded to lose conviction in the appropriate pronunciation of the committee we were trying so hard to hate.

As we wavered, the first letter we took it out on was the boldest one we could see – the prominent S in the middle. Call it tall poppy syndrome. By October, FA-SEE-YA had become FA-ZEE-YA. We went from a straightforward, utilitarian version to something that sounded like a handbag full of rainbows.

The acronym rapidly devolved into an absurd FAA-ZEE-YA, as advisers started slurring out an extended A for no apparent reason. I heard one confused planner even add a mini-pause in the middle of the AA sound to make FA’A-ZEE-YA, which sounds like a wonderful name for a tropical island in the South Pacific.

Things got even fruitier when advisers started playing with the front end. Somehow, FA/FAA/FA’A became FAY, and the ungodly FAY-ZEE-YA started cropping up in offices from Bligh Street to Bundaberg. Advisers, weary with fatigue and confusion, stumbled into client meetings in fear of the letter F, and stammered their way through their client f-f-financials.

The absolute nadir came around Christmas, when a prominent chief executive referred to the committee as FASIA, like some hybrid mongrel bred from PHASE and ASIA.

This was peak preposterousness. The committee now sounded like a continent.

Unfortunately, once you add an element of uncertainty to pronunciation, getting a firm consensus back is terribly difficult. That kind of toothpaste won’t go back in the tube.

By the new year, in defeat, exasperated planners had started going back to calling FASEA the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority. We’re at the point of being willing to go the long way around, just to be able to say words that are actual words.

We need a better solution. The accountants and lawyers are getting smug.

We need to get it right this time. We’re at risk of becoming the financial services version of George Costanza’s girlfriend in Seinfeld, the one who insisted on calling papier-mache hats “pah-pee-yah mah-shay”.

If we don’t stick to an accepted, anglicised version of FASEA, we’ll be like the people in Wholefoods stores who simply point at bags of Açaí, in fear of being judged by people who are healthier than them and better at guessing how to pronounce it.

Kelly O’Dwyer said it first, so she called shotgun. FA-SEE-YA it is.

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning. Contact at [email protected]
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