Fee for all?

GRiD\'s transformation into a lobbying body with an active public profile met with controversy at the third GRAF event in London last month as adviser members criticised the way funds have been raised to pay for it.

The price hike, from £150 per organisation per year, to £2,000 has provoked calls for a rethink and has led at least one high profile member to resign his membership. In an emotive session, delegates at the meeting all agreed that there was a solid case for GRiD to raise its profile and accepted that this could not be done on the existing levels of funding being raised. But opposition to the new charging structure was widespread.

New spokesperson Katharine Moxham explained the steps that she had taken in the weeks since she had taken over the role. This had included the launch of a new website, targeting key trade press which had been receptive to the launch and given it coverage, and will continue with an extension of media activity into media targeting employers.

She is also in the process of forging greater links with the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses, with the aim of demonstrating the value of putting in place group risk. National press coverage of the benefits of group risk, together with lobbying of all major political parties is the ultimate goal of the strategy.

Advisers present welcomed the progress that had been made. Allan Beal, an analyst in the health and risk practice at HSBC, said: “For the past 10 years GRiD has been run on a part-time basis. We need someone to represent us professionally and full-time, and this does inevitably cost money.”

But most expressed objections to the way fundraising had been structured, and all agreed a rethink is needed to stop the existing fee structure frightening off new members from joining.

Simon Derby, director of i2 Healthcare, who has resigned his membership in protest at the fee hike said: “There is no way on this earth than an IFA will join GRiD at £2,000. They will just look at it and think it’s a bridge too far. We want a range of people joining GRiD and we don’t want to alienate them by charging too much.”

Advisers pointed out that one of the objectives of the campaign was to increase the membership of GRiD and that a fee of £2,000 a year would put off new blood from joining the organisation.

Moxham said that the decision on how to fund the new programme of GRiD media activities had been ratified by the steering committee back in January.

Moxham said: “The larger members have already been making contributions in other ways by input into the organisation and the working parties by, for example, liaising with government and developing the GRiD exams. But at the end of the day the membership did agree the current situation both in January and at the AGM and the steering committee has acted on that.”

Advisers felt there were a number of ways that the fee issue could be easily resolved, with providers and large intermediaries paying more. Beal said: “Perhaps we should look at flat membership fees plus bigger fees for bigger members.”

Some delegates pointed out that while £2,000 is not going to break the bank, it is a spend that has to be justified. Guy Roberts, business development director at Portus Consulting said: “We had to take a step back when we saw the fee increase and we had a bit of a discussion about it in our office. We felt that as a serious player we would like to be involved. So we are prepared to pay the £2,000, but we will review it at the end of 12 months. I assume GRiD will do the same.”

Moxham said that this would be the case. “Absolutely. The point was made at the AGM that this isn’t necessarily the fee in perpetuity. It’s the fee to cover the activity for this year. It will be reviewed,” she said.

Derby called on Moxham to relay the grassroots feeling on the issue back to the GRiD steering committee before other members decided to pull the plug and leave, a call which she confirmed would be heeded.

Derby said: “If 59 members are paying £2,000 each that makes total funding available of £118,000. What’s the contingency plan for those who drop out? Someone who is a GRiD member should get the message back.”

Advisers felt that providers would be prepared to pay more than £2,000 a year, a figure that was generally considered to be trivial to them when compared to the business benefit that was likely to be derived from a higher profile for group risk products.