FSA sticks up for MAS “free advice” advert

The FSA says it fully supports the Money Advice Service’s controversial TV ad despite a barrage of criticism from IFAs concerned about the message it sends to the public.

The 30-second ad, part of a £4m campaign, began airing last week and includes a voiceover which states: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

The ad (see below) has been widely criticised by advisers who are worried it suggests to consumers that advice is free and uses symbolic words associated with regulated independent advice.

There has also been concern that the message contradicts the retail distribution review goal of ensuring consumers understand the price and value of advice.

However, when questioned about the ad by Money Marketing at a conference in London this week, FSA director of conduct policy Sheila Nicoll said the MAS is clear in what it is offering. She said: “It is worth noting the MAS is very clear that it is generic advice that it is providing. What the MAS is proposing is actually pretty complementary to the RDR.”

The MAS is an independent body funded by an industry levy which amounted to £43.7m this year. Advisers began receiving their FSA invoices this week which included the costs of their contribution to the MAS.

Aifa director general Stephen Gay argues that the public may be confused and potentially misled by the ads.

He says: “The use of the phrase ’independent and unbiased’ advice is not helpful. What the public understands by advice is going to somebody who knows more about a particular subject, who will help, who is on their side and, most important, who will take responsibility for that advice. We should not endanger this concept by inappropriate use of language.”

Michael Philips owner Michael Both says: “A national advertising campaign talking about free advice as ’a breath of fresh air’ is wrong.

“If the FSA is remotely serious about getting the public to appreciate there is a value to independent advice, then it should not support this advert. The MAS is not giving advice, it is an information service.”

Unbiased.co.uk chief executive Karen Barratt says the use of the term “unbiased” could give the IFA search service a boost as more consumers may search for the term online. She adds: “The word that I have a problem with, like the rest of the IFA community, is advice. I think it is actually information.”