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Advertising Standards Authority investigates MAS “free advice” ad

The Advertising Standards Authority has launched a formal investigation into the controversial TV ad from the Money Advice Service following a raft of adviser complaints.

The ASA has launched an investigation this week after it received a total of 77 complaints against the ads. It says most of the complaints came from those working within the financial sector.

Money Marketing has raised strong concerns about the content of the advert and revealed earlier this month that the ASA was considering investigating the MAS over the 30-second ad which began airing last month.

It features a voiceover claiming: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

A spokesman for the ASA says: “We are looking into complaints which have challenged whether the name Money Advice Service is misleading, because those who have complained believe the service offers guidance not advice.

“We are looking into complaints that challenge the claim ‘our advice is independent and unbiased’. We are also looking into complaints that challenge the claim the MAS is set up by Government.”

The ASA will now contact the MAS, who will be asked to comment on the concerns raised and defend the ad. The ASA will then make a recommendation whether or not to uphold the complaints, before the ASA council ultimately decides whether the complaints should be upheld.

A spokeswoman for the MAS says: “We are aware that the ASA is carrying out an investigation. We are liaising with the ASA and will await the outcome of the investigation.”

The ad is part of a £4m nationwide advertising campaign to raise awareness about the MAS among consumers.

The MAS has a budget of £43.7m for 2011/12 which is funded by a statutory levy on the financial services industry. It is an independent body launched by the Government in April, and was formerly known as the Consumer Financial Education Body.

Money Marketing questioned the FSA about the ad in June, following concerns that the message of free and independent advice was at odds with the aims of the RDR in ensuring consumers understand the price and value of advice.

FSA director of conduct policy Sheila Nicoll said: “It is worth nothing 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.”


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There are 40 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. This may seem petty but the FSA would had does crucify IFAs for far less. Now the boot is on the other foot and being applied firmly to the FSA backside!

  2. Whilst I am not totally against this add, the FSA gets your back up so much that you will do anything to have a pop at them.

    A small victory is a victory when it comes to the FSA.

  3. If anyone else produced an advert like this they would be hauled over the coals as it being misleading and inappropriate. I agree with the sentiment of the service (sohuld be named guidance- whats wrong that, its what it is?), however I would say that all the information provided on the MAS site is freely avilable on the web already. I hope the ASA take this seriously and that the ‘old boy network’ doesn’t kick in. Would be good for the FSA to get a serving of their own medicine.

  4. It doesn’t follow any of the FSA’s Financial Promotion Rules. It isn’t “Advice” and it isn’t a “Service”. ..And it’s not Free. I wonder if the ASA will find anything wrong?

  5. FSA commentator Sheila Nichol “It is worth nothing the MAS is very clear that it is generic advice that it is providing”


    Try talking to some ordinary people in the street, Sheila – they think this is providing full on advise.

    One of the FSA’s principles is that Financial Services communications must be presented in a way that will be understood by the consumer – I’m afraid this is so obviously not the case here, and
    Sheila’s reaction is shameful.

  6. I assume that if the ASA uphold the complaints against the MSA, then the FSA will be compelled to take disciplinary action against the MSA?

    Or will the FSA just stick two fingers up to the ASA, in the same way it has done to the TSC?

  7. After complaining to the ASA about this advertisement I received a written response yesterday (I’m one of the 77, though after all the hot air on various blogs I would have expected more complainants).

    My impression from their reply was they largely rejected the complaint so it will be interesting to see which point(s) they finally do investigate.

    Nearly everything that people have blogged about has been rebutted. Still, when you get one one quango investigating another quango what do you expect?

  8. Anon, what do you honestly expect from Sheila Nichol? In her recent evidence to the TSC, she stated that…..quote…..only 60% of the public ever take Financial Advice, and that none of those, trust the advice they are given?

    This woman is clearly unfit to be in her job!

  9. Commentators here would do well to remember that the MAS doesn’t undertake regulated activities…

  10. You just couldn’t make this up if you tried …..!!!!

  11. Who wants to bet money they wriggle their way out of this!!!

  12. This is good news – hopefully ASA will uphold the complaints.

    Paul Nash – I doubt the FSA can do that – as the ASA does have the power to pull advertisements, I think the MSA will fold very quikcly – that should get them a 30% discount on the FSA fine 🙂

  13. If it is not ‘advice’ as defined in FSMA 2000, then don’t call it ‘advice’. Call it INFORMATION or GENERIC ADVICE

    I had a letter back from the ASA who didn’t uphold my complaint about the MAS advert, clearly misunderstanding what financial advice is all about

    They gave me the option to go to appeal, but frankly I’ve got more pressing things to do.

  14. Donna Hopton - cherry 29th July 2011 at 11:06 am

    May we politely request that all comments received on this thread are referred by Money Marketing to the ASA and to the FSA. This whole situation is utterly diabolical and someone needs to sit up, listen, and then act accordingly.

    How dare the FSA charge IFAs fees and then effectively give the money to a competitor organisation which doesn’t even seem to be complying with its own rules. The FSA – and Mr Hants – really must have their wings clipped (or even better – removed).

  15. And who will pay for the revised advert?
    Yep you’ve got it we will by increased fees!!!!!

  16. Roger Chadbourne 29th July 2011 at 11:25 am

    I have been in this industry since 1986. Since then, the Regulatory Authority, under whichever name was current, has tried on three separate occasions to influence the way in which business is conducted and remunerated and ensure that the public are fully aware of the adviser status and level of advice that can be offered. It has failed every time. RDR is just the next attempt, and I predict is also doomed to failure.
    Each previous attempt has been delayed or overrun its implementation by at least a year.
    Each previous attempt has been muddied and confused by banks insisting that they offer “independent” advice. The definition of “advice” is so obscure that even we have difficulty understanding it, never mind Joe Public.
    One final thought – since joining the EU it has been Government policy (of every hue) to try to align our taxation, banking, saving and financial services with a common European model.
    There is no equivalent to an IFA in Europe. If you want Financial Services, you do it through a Bank.
    Just a thought.

  17. You pass CII exams by sorting out the portfolios of fictional millionaires in 20 minutes. 20 minutes work? OK that’s free. Then I want product providers to pay me for promoting their products and arranging the business for them. I want enough to get me a profit – you need that in business – and enough to pay my staff and my office expenses and my regulatory fees. It’s called “commission” now. OK let’s get rid of “commission” and call it something else. Then I can continue to give free advice…

  18. Why is the Money Advice Service (MAS) giving direct links to the providers from its annuity comparison tables?

    I am dismayed by the inclusion of direct links to the providers’ websites after the production of a comparison table for annuities. I firmly believe the majority of people who will be attracted to the MAS site will be there because they are promised ‘free unbiased financial advice’ in TV advertisements.

    If the people watching those adverts are anything like 90% of the people I deal with in my day-to-day life, both business and personal, it is highly unlikely they will be reading the small print or looking at anything more than the top rate quoted and where to go to next to get their annuity up and running. For those who will say that this is ‘belittling the masses’ just look at the take-up of the Open Market Option on maturing pensions.

    It is not only that this is happening, I find it simply beyond belief we, as an industry, accept the instruction of our regulator to fund a service which will probably be more detrimental to the consumer than beneficial. If we used the same format and wording, as MAS does, we would be censured and fined out of existence.

    When are we going to get together as an industry and make our voices heard?

    Please follow the link below for more on this subject:

  19. @ Adam Smith

    Exactly the point we are trying to make. If no action is taken against MAS then what would stop any Tom, Dick or Martin Lewis setting up unregulated “advisory” web sites.

  20. I think whether or not ASA class this advert as misleading will depend upon the argument put forward and how’ ranting’ it was.

    If fully justified reasoning and confirmation on consumer detriment can be shown then they will have to do something about it.

    If the response is the usual blog ranty style or ‘this will ‘affect my business its not fair’ then ASA aren’t going to take the comment serious.

    It will protentially be too easy to show customer detriment but my question is, if someone has acted on the generic information or used a link from the MAS website, where the protection then lies for the consumer.

    If they are directed to another site as a result of a link which they wouldn’t have used otherwise the surely this is advice – the question is if it’s from a best buy table who is accountable.

    Not a month ago the FSA were criticising Merecats for comparison tables so maybe MAS should be criticised along the same lines. In my opinion their ‘free and unbiased advice’ is not really any different.

  21. If the MAS are offering advice, then presumably people can follow that advice.

    If someone, following that advice, ends up in an unsuitable product, then presumably they have been mis-sold.

    The mis-selling would then have to be reviewed…compliance processes defined and evidenced…fines levied…

    Wonder when the first case will land.

  22. Take the time to complain to ASA, let us let them know this isn’t going to go away.

  23. Can’t they do anything properly. Its the blind leading the blind. They will both fall into a self made hole.

  24. @ John Phillips et al.

    Just to be clear, I think complaining to the ASA is a valid route to take (just bear in mind that industry complaints tend to be taken less seriously than consumer ones). My point was directed at all the people saying “the FSA should do something” who only demonstrate their own ignorance of the regulatory regime they’re supposed to comply with.

  25. Re Adam Smith
    You are not making any sense.
    Who was saying “the fsa should do something” before you posted?

  26. My money is on a win for the FSA.

    The fact is the user doesn’t have to pay. It’s like the NHS – is that free? Not according to what I see as the taxes (which we all pay) going to fund it. But the patient doesn’t pay.

    That is just a revamped Money Made Clear site and that I’ll also wager that not many will use it and that of the ones that do few will understand anyway.

    Bear in mind who the site is aimed at. One wonders if they all have a computer and if those that do are capable of navigating anything other than a porn site.

    Remember the previous education minister – Patricia Hewitt’s famous quote – 50% of the British Public don’t know what 50% means. The 50% that do already probably engage with an adviser – probably independent to boot!

    That the whole thing is a huge waste of money (ours) is par for the course so is much of the tax that we pay – wasted.

    So I would suggest to all those frothing at the moth:

    “Calm down dear – it’s only a commercial.”

  27. As somebody who has had financial trouble and has used the MAS, I think that the majority of the public are happy for a place to go where they won’t be hounded into paying for a particular product or service.

    By saying it is not free, I think you’re missing the point. Of course it must be funded from somewhere, and this occurs through an FSA levy. However, to the consumer and those that need free, initial money advice, it is a FREE service.

    Finally, the definition of ‘Advice’ is “Guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.”

    MAS is not authoritative, but it is knowledgeable and their advisers to my knowledge are trained to deal, to a certain level, with everyday money problems. I also believe that they will suggest IFA action if the problem goes beyond their non-regulated remit.

    Surely the IFA community could do well by working alongside the MAS instead of consistently moaning about semantics that really make no difference, except to generate headlines and publicity.

    Many people don’t want to go to an IFA, and certainly don’t want to pay for such a service, so why is it so terrible in these tough economic times not to have a first point of call for those who just need some basic guidence and more general ‘advice’?

  28. I tried the site and it came up with a plan without asking me my age!!! Depersonalisation is a mental condition caused by stress and depression, or is this another term for ‘generic’

  29. I’ve just had a letter fom ASA dated the 27th saying that they are not proceeding with my complaint, because consumers won’t be mislead at all. That was a waste of time.
    But only 77 complaints….? What are you lot playing at? If ASA are deluged they would have to take notice.

  30. Leon Spencer
    Many people don’t want to go to an IFA, and certainly don’t want to pay for such a service, so why is it so terrible in these tough economic times not to have a first point of call for those who just need some basic guidence and more general ‘advice’?
    Because we, who are also living through these tough economic times, have to PAY for it!
    What do you do for a living?
    Surely you would be most unhappy if the public or your employer could get your service for free.

  31. Re Leon Spencer – understands that financial advice is free. He doesn’t want hounding into a product. If Mr Spencer then wants to get some products, that’s when he should pay. Right now he pays the retail price so he has nothing to gain. He might as well use an IFA. RDR will give him the opportunity of paying the wholesale price for the products. There will be no need for IFAs. IFAs do not get paid for giving advice, they get paid by product providers for marketing and arranging their products. Even so-called fee based advisers cannot possibly be truly fee-based advisers while there is a distinction between the wholesale and retail price of financial products.

  32. We are liaising with the ASA and will await the outcome of the investigation.

    Over a nice glass of port?

  33. Julian Stevens 29th July 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I received my letter from the ASA today. It said that they’re not upholding a single element of my complaint. It also referred to various other complaints the ASA has received and said they’re not upholding any of them either. Everything dismissed and brushed aside. Someone behind closed doors has clearly pulled a few strings. I’d bet good money the top man at the ASA is a good buddy of either Adair Turner or Hector Sants ~ probably both.

  34. Strictly confidential!


    1) Force through RDR to ensure that the costs of independent advice is sufficiently high that it deters as many of the general public as possible from obtaining it.

    2) Launch the MAS – limiting its initial objectives but with an advertising budget that guarantees that the public’s know that it is entirely free They cannot resist that deal.

    3) Begin the consultation on simplified products, begin to leave open the possibility that the MAS will offer advice on such products.

    4) A few years from now, once the MAS free money advice and free how to choose a product advice are established move the regulatory goalposts. With less and less IFAs around, except for the HNW, the public will need such a service – and it after all a free service.

    5) Ensure at all times that the MAS disclaimer of – no liability for any advice, or for any mistakes – is maintained no matter what.

    Oh, simply ignore the antics of those who we know will rise up in protest. Smile as you remember they are left with a life long liability for their efforts at providing advice – even though we will have long since put the majority out of business.

  35. The fact the adverts appeared after the ASA said they were looking into the complaints probably says it all.

    It is “free” to those who use it even if we have to pay the cost of running it and have no choice in the matter .

    It was technically set up by Government

    The only issue I see if whether it is giving “advice” or “guidance” and that will be an interesting point of contention.

    The fact they say it is set up by Government but fail to mention it is paid for by the industry and not Government is a little misleading as I expect most will think it is a tax payer funded service and thus protected by the tax payer also. They should in my view disclose who pays for it in the same way we have to disclose our ffes and the product costs etc.

  36. Perhaps someone can explain to me why we have to disclose we are regulated by the FSA etc on all our stationary and websites, but the Money Advice Service is not regulated by the FSA yet fails to make that clear on their website

    I quote from the terms and conditions:

    “3.5.1 We are not regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Accordingly, the information and interactive money planners provided
    are not regulated financial advice, nor can they take account of your own particular circumstances or recommend specific products
    for you.”

    In effect I read that to mean that given they cannot take account of their particular circumstances then how can they give any advice or guidance?

    Staggering if you ask me and how on earth does our Government allow this to be?

    We are just being taken for utter fools by the FSA and this Government.

  37. I hope that, like me, you have all put in a complaint to the ASA.

  38. Exactly as Dennis Hall says. I too lodged a formal complaint and have recevied a letter from the ASA. Sadly as Dennis says the letter does take three sides to largely brush off our complaints. Shame more did not take similar action and add to the gravity of feeling on this audacious inexcusable advertising. No professional adviser would have been allowed to come anywhere near making these claims though i for one give away lots of free advice with no strings. Yes as a businesses man i do hope that some of it will eventually be repaid but many local folks have enjoyed completely free advice from me – and will go on doing so in the future I have no doubt. Still i dare not speak its name……. Meanwhile the FSA says one thing, invents all sortts of rules and then does the opposite. No leading by example for them. Such blatant ground stealing of the clothes of IFA promotion and claiming to be free must not go unchallenged. The fact this is just generic advice and ‘pap’ in my professional view does not prevent the dangers of such ‘advice’ cheapening and debasing truly professiaonnl advice. After they have waded through this piffle i dare say a good many lay members of the public will simply give up in disgust, retreat into innaction expecting professional advice to be no better!

    We must defend ADVICE and ensure it is always distinguished from generic non specific INFORMATION – and indeed HL style execution only. Advice is our only product. Without professional advice being held in high regard we are nothing and the nation is all the poorer.

  39. Leon Spencer – whatever you do for a living imagine somone comes along offerring exactly the service / end product you provide, says they do it for free AND you pay for it through massive annual fees – over £3,000 per adviser per annum.

    Now tell me to calm down dear…you have no idea – probably teach in a classroom you returned to after three years in university – no experience of the real world and feeling that you are fully justified a gold plated pension on top of a lovely salary and long holidays whist we paid your wages!

    I have no problem with MAS but it must not claim to be what it is not and it must not threaten the livlihoods of independent advisers required, i would remind you, to act in the best interests of their clients whislt being forbidden – by the FSA – from stating publicly in any advert to two or more receipients that we offer anything for free. When you do not know of what you speak your ignorance and arrogance is stark.

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