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What does the FSA make of the MAS “free advice” advert?

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“Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it’s free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

So says an infuriating new TV advert for the Government’s Money Advice Service (see below).

The service, paid for by an annual levy on the financial services industry which this year cost £43.7m, aims to offer unregulated information to consumers as a starting point to better understand their financial position.

The Government made a big mistake in branding the service as “advice”. If you are offering advice you must be prepared to take responsibility for the advice you offer yet, as a lengthy disclaimer on the MAS website makes clear, it takes no such responsibility.

This misuse of the word advice has created confusion at a time when the FSA says it is striving for an increased clarity of advice definitions through the retail distribution review.

The new MAS advertising campaign goes further in muddying the waters for consumers.

The words independent and unbiased have become synonymous with a distinct type of advice that IFAs are proud to offer their clients. The word “independent” can only be used by advisers who abide by specific regulatory rules which will become stricter post-2012. The organisation formerly known as IFA Promotions has for some time marketed itself to consumers under the Unbiased brand.

To suggest this advice is free is incorrect, the £43.7m levy is inevitably passed on to all consumers of financial products, and promotes a message which contradicts the FSA’s RDR aim of ensuring consumers are aware that advice should be valued and paid for.

The phrase “breath of fresh air” can easily be read as a dig at other forms of paid-for advice.

The MAS’s marketing campaign has also done it no favours with some IFAs who have been led to believe it will compete with the services they offer. A quick examination of the MAS website suggests the service is not looking to step on the toes of IFAs.

Creating more financially literate consumers is a worthy goal worth paying for, although the levy should also be funded by the taxpayer due to the potential positive social effects of the service. 

However, rather than educating, the current MAS advertising campaign clumsily guides consumers away from the truth that good advice is a valuable  commodity worth paying for.

You would hope and expect that FSA staff involved with the retail distribution review are pretty angry with the message being conveyed in this advert- a message completely at odds with the RDR objective of getting consumers to realise that advice comes at a price.

FSA staff are appearing at numerous RDR conferences and roadshows at the moment. Hopefully they will get asked their opinion about the advert and hopefully they will give an honest answer.


Paul McMillan is editor of Money Marketing- follow him on twitter here







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Readers' comments (22)

  • What an absolute disgrace.

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  • So, what will FSA do about it?? No doubt there are hurried meetings taking place in Canary Wharf to decide how to justify their inactivity. Imagine what they woudl do to an IFA who put this advert on local TV. It's a pity 'government' doesn't look at the rules it has created before it goes ahead with this cynical and blatant abuse of power and influence. We have spent years cultivating some understanding of what independence and unbiased advice means for our clients only to see a crass advert undo all that hard work - no wonder Mr & Mrs Average are totally confused to the point of being uninterested in finances

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  • Well intentioned, poorly thought through, disasterously executed...if only Heineken ran financial services... ooops, forgot they had some recent issues with their own staff pension....

    (good article)

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  • I should imagine that elephants excrete the largest volume of manure of any land mammal, how apt!

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  • "Left hand / right hand?" comes to mind, with no surprise. Of course they can't tell the great unwashed that the adverts are paid for by the FS industry; heaven forbid that people may start to make the connection that the regulator who oversaw the near collapse of the banking system is paid for by them through product charges, commissions, fees, bank account charges (there'll be more of them post RDR), home insurance premiums etc... Some may wonder what on earth they are paying for, especially if they found out what Hector took home last year for presiding over it all................

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  • Maybe its the 'MAS' because 'Money Information Service or 'MIS' could be confused with MISselling.........

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  • Gosh !!

    Please remember :-

    “If you are In Regulation, stupidity is not a handicap.”

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  • So FSA staff are appearing at numerous RDR conferences and roadshows to give an honest answers are they?

    Paul have you ever been to one of these roadshows? Most IFAs are so frighened of the FSA that they have a attack of Stockholm syndrome wherein the IFA hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their FSA regulators.

    At a TCF Roadshow I asked an FSA official how 10,000 redundant advisers, 2- 3 million orphan clients, fees and 20% VAT fitted in with TCF?

    This was not a politically correct question to ask. Well to say that he looked like I'd just sunk a poleaxe into his skull would be an understatement and yes your right I did not get an answer as indeed we still don't!

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  • It seems pretty clear that the FSA, Government and Mr Hoban at the Treasury want IFA's to become a limited resource of advice at least for the majority. Bearing in mind they have a vested interest in helping the banks re-build their capital and re-pay the Government this service looks like confusing people even further.

    One wonders if those who work for the MAS are responsible for the advice they give for the rest of their lives and are indeed regulated by the FSA.

    The FSA has created a mess but they never pay for their mistakes do they?

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  • Does this mean that a precedent has been set, That as long as we give the client a lengthy disclaimer ,(as on the MAS website that makes clear that it takes no responsibility for any advice it gives),we can also walk away from any advice we give. Seems fair.

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