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FSA fines Axa Sun Life after MM exposed misleading ads

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Axa Sun Life has been fined £500,000 by the FSA for misleading advertisements a year after a Money Marketing columnist first revealed the problem.

The ads included direct-offer promotions as well as national press and television advertising for Axa Sun Life's Bonus Cash Builder Plus Plan and its Guaranteed Over 50 Plan.

Regular MM columnist Tom Kean, compliance officer at The Analysts, criticised Axa's ads, which featured TV personalities Carol Smil-lie and June Whitfield, in an article in MM in December 2003.

In the article, Kean said it was scandalous that this sort of plan was still being marketed and called on the FSA to make sure that offers such as Axa's - which he described as "designed to pull the wool over our eyes" - do not see the light of day.

The FSA says the ads, which were distributed between February 2002 and January 2004, did not provide customers with sufficient information about how the product worked or the risks involved. The ads for the bonus cash plan also included comparative data that was inaccurate and the firm failed to inform the FSA about the error until November 2003 despite discovering the error in April 2003.

The whole promotional campaign has been withdrawn and the FSA says the firm has co-operated in the investigation.

FSA director of enforcement Andrew Procter says: "The FSA takes the issue of misleading financial promotions very seriously.

"If a firm's financial promotions fail to meet our require-ment to be fair, clear and not misleading and the firm fails to treat its customers fairly, then we will not hesitate to act."

Kean says: "I am extremely pleased that the pressure that I and others like me brought to bear on the issue has resulted in the FSA being more proactive in the way that it looks at ads."

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