Broadcasters have focused on the problem of fake news in politics a lot lately. But fake news is not confined to politics. Indeed, it has found its way into personal finance.
To be fair, it is probably more misconception and reporting bias than fake news, but it has the same effect, which is to influence the way people think and act.
A blog last year from the much-respected Henry Tapper called out investment manager Momentum for providing false information about when people can retire.
He wrote, “it would be funny if we weren’t trying to get the right message across”.
When I think about it, fake news has been peddled for many years.
I remember 25 years ago there was a blast of it every year around the time of the Budget when Equitable Life told clients tax-free cash might be scrapped.
This resulted in a queue of lawyers who should have known better asking for a second opinion.
Then came the campaign against annuities, which started in the late 1990s. I remember headlines like “Annuities are legalised theft” or, my favourite one, “My dog could have better”.
Funny as these reflections may be, there is a serious point.
Many people are influenced by the news and, if that is misleading, the result is poor decisions and financial loss.
How will the person who shunned annuities because they read in the paper that they were a rip-off feel in old age when they run short of income and decide, on reflection, purchasing one would have been a good bet?
So, what can we do to stop the spread of fake news? Well, we must be quick to stand up to it. Make the case for the real news.
This can be done by offering to write opinion pieces arguing for what we think is right, or by making sure we go the extra mile to give clients access to unbiased information.
Of course, this is a lot easier said than done but if we do not attempt to counter fake news, thousands may end up losing out on valuable income.
I will leave the last words to a headline from the FT in August, “there is no need to panic: ‘fake news’ will ultimately lose”.
William Burrows is retirement director at Better Retirement