In the wake of the recent scandal that has engulfed the RICS, the surveyors’ body has faced a backlash about whether it is offering the membership what they need. We decided to open our own informal consultation, inviting suggestions from RICS members – here are their responses
“Arrogant and naive” was how Paul Morrell, the UK’s former chief construction adviser under Gordon Brown and David Cameron, described the current leadership of the RICS in an interview with Building this month. The institution has come under fire after abruptly dismissing four non-executive directors for demanding answers as to why the damning financial report by BDO into treasury controls had not been shared.
But there is more to the fierce backlash than just the handling of the BDO report. Members have since voiced a broad range of frustrations, with many protesting that its leadership has lost touch with its SME members in recent years in the pursuit for global expansion.
Others, including Morrell, complained that the institution has become unwieldy, and has started to buckle under the strain of trying to represent too many professions. Morrell summed it up: “You simply wouldn’t invent the RICS if it didn’t already exist.”
> Also read: How does the RICS rebuild its reputation?
The response of the RICS’s governing council has only inflamed the rebellion. Last month it finally bowed to pressure and said it would set up an independent review after all. But a publication date has not been announced; meanwhile Fontana and Tompkins’ strategic review looking at membership engagement only late last week posted an email address for feedback.
In a statement, it said the review will “assess the progress of existing strategic activities, focusing on member experience, membership value proposition, attracting diverse talent to the profession, enhancing the reputation of RICS globally, governance, thought leadership and embedding RICS standards”.
Fontana said: “This will be a very important piece of work and will enable RICS to evolve as an organisation and reaffirm our strategic direction and priorities.” She added: “I strongly encourage all our members to take this opportunity to contribute to the future of RICS”.
So Building thought we would share what we have learnt from our own consultation launched at the start of the month. We asked members to share both their thoughts on the institution and any ideas for specific reforms. The response has been huge. Here are some of the highlights.
What the members say
I [have] always thought that RICS was just a talking shop for senior partners of the various consultants and there was no interest in contractors’ personnel. That view is compounded by the plethora of different professions within the RICS which have nothing in common with each other.
The annual fees have always been excessive. Mostly I have had to pay them myself – apart from a period of four years when my company required me to be a member. I used to hold the view that the major purpose of RICS membership was training but that was largely lost when the RICS farmed out the exams to the universities. Now those coming through are poorly trained with an over-inflated view of their worth.
Specific reforms I would suggest are:
- Membership fees need to be drastically cut.
- There should be greater separation of the various professions. They have nothing in common. Preferably into separate institutions.
– John Dean
My top three reforms would be:
- Senior managers to accept responsibility that the RICS has not been managed adequately and stop diverting attention and continually justifying themselves and their behaviour.
- Remove CEO with immediate effect and other senior managers and employ new blood to deliver fresh ideas that support members and work in members’ best interests.
- Scale back the entire organisation so that it focuses on the basics and delivers a better service for a lower fee that members can visibly discern. There is too much trying to do everything for everyone (or no one as the case may be) and the real needs and expectations are being swamped by marginal activity that keeps RICS management and employees conveniently busy for very little benefit to members.
Boring is better – we don’t need all this flashy costly attitude.
There is a strong belief that the UK members are financing a self‑aggrandisement programme worldwide which is financially unsustainable
RICS assumes a kudos which I am uncertain is merited. It feels that the RICS changed from being “our” professional institute to a remote corporate entity that takes our money for subscriptions and then wants more for additional services, and when we consider why, we conclude it is to help pay for an administrative and executive cohort and their ambitions, the benefits of which we cannot quite discern.
Shrink, polish and grow would be my advice:
Shrink by cutting out all corporate aggrandising assets and policies. Polish by remorseless focus on quality and standards and meaningful member involvement.
Grow through research, increasing spread and depth of expertise to become a respected institution.
– Mark A Lloyd
My concern with the RICS is that the membership provides very little value – a magazine a month and most of the content is not relevant. BCIS online and other RICS services all require additional subscriptions which is costly if you operate a sole organisation.
RICS is very keen to promote and take your money for specialist training/courses but then opportunities to get on a panel are very restricted ie adjudication/mediation etc. Even when you do get a panel, the lion’s share of workload tends to be handed to the golden few. The panel tends to be made up of old men and is very much a case of waiting for dead men’s shoes!
We used to be able to run CPD and social events at minimum cost for members, usually thanks to generous hospitality by other members, clients or contractor organisations, as APM or ICES continue to do. All that started to change in the mid-1990s, with mandatory minimum charges for both CPD and social events. By the millennium CPD events were delivered centrally by a “training” offshoot of RICS at three-figure prices.
– Tony Westcott
Before we were given a Peugeot badge (or something) in place of the lion with ranging rod, and became “customers”, the RICS had a great reputation for looking after its members. It now seems to be roughly twice the annual membership cost of other institutions and, from my angle, pays little attention to what members need.
I see a role for a governing body to maintain standards, giving my expertise credibility; to promote the profession to the public – letting the public know what we do; and encouraging young people to look at a career in surveying that does not necessarily mean selling shops and offices in London.
I do not require international, or even UK government representation. I do expect my institution to enable me to obtain PI insurance for the work we do (a separate subject) and to stick up for surveyors when courts occasionally make decisions that open us up to ridiculous liability.
– David Vestey
I struggle to see where my fees go. In reality it feels like a very expensive magazine subscription in receiving the Modus publication every month. All online resources tend to come with a further subscription other than the opening-up of CPD and courses as a free resource at the start of the pandemic. This was welcome when a number of the profession would have been on furlough. However, they did soon fill up so places became unavailable.
I work in an architectural practice where I am the only member of the RICS, and I would have to say that for lower fees the RIBA and CIAT seems to offer better value. I also felt that, after the Grenfell tragedy, and at a time when membership were looking for direction from the RICS, it felt sadly lacking.
– Howard Young
Senior managers to accept responsibility that the RICS has not been managed adequately and stop diverting attention and continually justifying themselves and their behaviour
I am a trainee RICS member about to be chartered via the senior professional route. I work for a well-known UK project management consultancy.
The recent Sunday Times stories have given me pause for thought: is this a club I want to join? Will the behaviour of senior people at RICS affect my credibility as a professional working in the industry?
In terms of reforms, there must be an explicit link between the (high) annual fees that I must pay and the services and benefits that I receive in return.
RICS tries to make money from the membership by charging for CPD courses – why not offer, free of charge, a set of relevant and genuinely useful training modules each year? That would feel like RICS was investing back into its membership. 10% discount on shirts at TM Lewin doesn’t really cut it.
Dealing with RICS as a trainee has been painful, both amateurish and unresponsive. They lack capacity and competence.
Definitely my experience was that those running the organisation were arrogant and did not want to engage with members. The recent round of redundancies highlighted how out of touch they were, with so many meaningless titles suddenly being exposed as unnecessary. I resigned my membership this year as a result of their exclusive attitude.
– Thurstan Ollerearnshaw
The unpublished BDO report is, in my view, the catalyst for the deep frustration felt by ordinary members in the direction taken by our institution over many years. In a nutshell, the institution has been hijacked by bureaucrats.
The majority of members do not have a clue what is going on in their institution. In my view the reason for the current situation lies in the dismantling of the branch network and the replacement with RICS-run regional boards, thus creating centralisation of command and control.
The branch structure worked well as members had a direct say in what went on in London. We appointed chairmen etc. It was very democratic. It was suggested at HQ that branch meetings were held in “smoke-filled rooms” which is a travesty of the truth.
My own Devon and Cornwall branch held excellent meetings at proper venues where leading academics and figures in the property industry provided lectures on a wide range of professional issues. Information was exchanged and lasting friendships formed and we were proud to call ourselves surveyors. With the dismantling of the general branch network, we became disenfranchised and disillusionment set in.
– Roger Carter
The current make-up of the governing council does not reflect the membership as a whole and therefore the RICS is more distant from users of surveying services (clients) and the communities RICS surveyors serve. Most members reside and work within the UK and a democratic system of appointments to the governing council should reflect this – it currently does not.
RICS’s governance, including the activities of the governing council, must be more transparent to members, including the right for members to sit as observers in any board or meeting of RICS, and members’ rights to inspect a full register of conflicts of interest of all staff and board members.
Expansion into and/or continuation in world regions must be re-evaluated, regardless of the RICS current financial position. The RICS should have a viable mandate from the membership and the extant community of any territory in which it invests to develop its interests – and an exit strategy if that mandate is not met or maintained.
RICS must return to being a membership organisation with operational accountability directly to members and not a wholly commercial business.
– Paul Roberts
All I have seen over the years is a gradual deterioration into a huge money-making organisation with little or no concern for its membership
As a chartered QS of 43 years and third-generation member of the institution, the events of the last two months have greatly saddened me. I doubt that I have seen the morale, reputation and disengagement with the membership at such a low ebb.
There needs to be recognition that the majority of members are and will likely continue to be based in the UK and Ireland and that the “global” experiment has not worked. It needs to be rolled back to a level that is sustainable and will practicably support those working in overseas markets.
An improved balance should be struck between large member organisations, SMEs and those members working in governmental institutions.
This is a key moment for our institution, as over the next months many interested external parties will be watching how we all act. A change of culture or direction of any organisation is always difficult, but is necessary for its survival. The RICS is no different.
– Colin McCarthy
The website has been badly executed and it appears that several iterations have been loosely stitched together which has left a very disjointed system. It needs to be a place where members can come to research industry insights, use a portal to discuss issues and meet fellow members. I suggest a total redesign, including engagement with members to find out specifically what they want to see and how they want to use the site. This shouldn’t be an expensive or overly time-consuming task, and would really feel like a tangible value-add to so many people.
– Simon Thornton
As a partner in a small provincial QS practice with over 35 years’ membership of the RICS, all I have seen over the years is a gradual deterioration into a huge money-making organisation with little or no concern for its membership. What do I get for my £500/year fees? An occasional magazine that has as much content as the Beano! As a member there is little or no free-access data services available to assist in our day-to-day QS services. The RICS seems to be trying to become the sole surveying (or dare I say, construction) professional organisation which is of no use to anybody.
– Dave Aspden
The RICS needs to be a “members organisation” again, ie run by members for the benefit of members. It should be totally transparent. The management structure needs scaling back – the governing council needs to be the decision-maker.
I found shocking the amount of money that has been paid to the CEO, in particular bonuses. The membership fee needs to be reduced, to align with that of other professions (£539 is too much)
The RICS cannot keep running losses of millions. It needs to be much tighter in its financial controls, and not spend more than it earns. The global expansion needs to be scaled back; the UK membership needs to be the priority.
RICS (rightly) puts CPD at the forefront of the obligations upon members – however, it does not offer free training courses or CPD opportunities. It tries to offer things like a “CPD package” which costs another circa £300. This is not right. Providing CPD/training for its members (at no extra cost) should be one of the priorities of the organisation. I think this way, members, particularly in SMEs, would feel that they were getting something back for their fees.
The RICS offers very little in the way of practical help to members. There is no advice. No helping hand and it is virtually unapproachable as it seeks to deal with high level issues and expansion
The main thing people want to know is the regional income/expenses breakdown. There is a strong belief that the UK members are financing a self‑aggrandisement programme worldwide which is financially unsustainable. The last AGM was held in Hong Kong at a very expensive hotel – how many executives were flown out there, at what cost? How many members are there in Hong Kong?
Generally service is very poor for the subscription, little proper support for members, constant changes to regulations, usual assumption is that members are in the wrong. For the very small firms support is nil, and no sole traders I know would be members if they didn’t feel they have to due to the monopoly.
Satisfaction questionnaires are frequent but questions skewed to avoid answers they don’t want to hear.
– John Hodges
Over the last 10 years the executive and senior management have sought to gain power and influence over the governance of RICS, which has resulted in a steady creep away from any influence from the membership. Membership democracy in the governance of RICS is a parody. Standards of education and training are falling and levels of entry are suffering in the interest of revenue. RICS has become a business and not a members’ organisation.
As a longstanding member, I wish for:
- The appropriate action in response to the published results of Oldham’s review
- RICS to return to an accounting profit by credible means
- RICS to cease regarding itself as a business
- RICS to have a clear cognisance of its obligation under the Royal Charter
- RICS to be again a members’ organisation
- RICS to be governed largely by the members for the members.
– Stephen Moore
I’m very sad and disappointed at the recent events and press coverage of my profession. I like many of my colleagues were initially on board with the global expansion but my recollection was that it was initially a trial and worth trying, but not at a major loss.
The profession is now run by the executive rather than the membership
The salary and benefits package of the CEO and senior staff needs reviewing to put it in line with others in similar positions. Although the RICS has to be commercial it is still a membership organisation which has a Royal Charter to uphold.
– Chris Barker
The reason for the current situation lies in the dismantling of the branch network and the replacement with RICS-run regional boards, thus creating centralisation of command and control
The RICS focus is now as a money generating concern. The global expansion really has been at the expense of its core UK membership and I have felt disengaged and neglected for some years.
My personal dealings with the RICS have been very frustrating. Assistance over the telephone is lacking and members are referred to the website to do everything online. That is even more frustrating as I found the website is extremely slow, poorly designed, takes an inordinate amount of time to save and retain information and usually loses it or just locks out.
The RICS offers very little in the way of practical help to members. There is no advice. No helping hand and it is virtually unapproachable as it seeks to deal with high-level issues and expansion.
From my view the RICS offers very little in the way of practical help to members. There is no advice. No helping hand and is virtually unapproachable as it seeks to deal with high level issues and expansion.
As a professional institution the RICS is not really a member’s organisation and appears to be very much a regulatory and disciplinary organisation
I am also a Fellow Member of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers and I find that organisation friendlier, more informative, more open and sadly, more professional in its treatment of members.
The RICS business model is not fit for purpose. The member fees are too high for very little return, the exorbitant amount of money raised from the membership appears to be going on executive salaries, expenses and travel perks. The institution no longer hears or cares to hear from its membership with many people who raise concerns either being persecuted, chased out of the organisation or at worst threatened with legal action. These are not the actions of an organisation that cares about its members or reputation.
That I was not surprised to hear the allegations of ‘unidentified fraud, misappropriation of funds and misreporting of financial performance’ speaks volumes. The majority of members have had concerns over RICS’ lack of transparency and lack of member engagement for some time – how can an organisation funded by the most expensive professional fees in the industry be making a loss when they are providing very little to the members in return for their fees except for the post-nominals? Couple this with the lowering of entry standards to increase membership numbers in pursuit of their global expansion goal, and there are few other explanations.
Aside from the governance worries, the Institution is very badly organised. Aside from mass emails and the e-magazine Modus, the only communications with members that are actively followed up on relate to the payment of fees. Any attempts by members to contact the organisation generally go unanswered.
The entire structure of the organisation needs to be rebuilt. It is too top heavy and there is no real member engagement. As a general rule, RICS members are passionate and proud of their qualifications, they want to be involved and they want to promote their industry. These are the same people who are generally discouraged if they have anything negative to say about the organisation.
– Rhiann Storey
Like many members I have felt that the RICS has lost touch with its UK membership, a situation that has developed over time, since the institution acquired a monopoly on Real Estate advice and commentary.
The focus of the RICS has changed, and you have rightly reported that the focus has been on selling the brand abroad, and focusing on global issues whilst at the same time neglecting the nitty gritty that affects the humble Chartered Surveyor at home.
The RICS news publications , represented by Modus and the Journals, reflect this shift, with much more focus on what is going on abroad and with trendy topics such as sustainability, climate change, and green energy, but very limited on the day to day issues faced by UK Chartered Surveyors.
Thumbing through Modus and the Journals you read plenty about the exotic Middle and Far East but very little about what is going on in the regions of the UK where most of the membership live and work.
Many Chartered Surveyors that I deal with feel disillusioned with the RICS, and there is a noticeable lack of any interest in getting involved in the profession or indeed going that bit further and stepping up to become a Fellow of the RICS, such is the disillusionment.
– David Edwards
What do you think needs to change at the RICS? Please tell us below or email the Building newsdesk at firstname.lastname@example.org