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Advertising Standards Authority rejects MAS “free advice” complaints

The Advertising Standards Authority has rejected adviser complaints over the Money Advice Service’s controversial TV ad which claimed it offers free, independent advice.

In July, Money Marketing revealed the ASA had launched a formal investigation after it received 80 complaints.

The ad began airing in June and included a voiceover claiming: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free, how is that for a breath of fresh air?” Complainants claimed thereference to advice was misleading, arguing the MAS provides information rather than advice. Complainants also challenged the independent and unbiased claim.

In its adjudication, published today, the ASA says: “The ASA considered that most consumers would understand the references to ’advice’ in the ad to mean the advertisers offered general information, guidance and advice on financial issues and products in a general sense rather than providing “advice” in the specific, technical and commercial way that IFAs offered.”

The ASA had already narrowed its investigation after rejecting a number of initial adviser complaints.

Yellowtail Financial Planning managing director Dennis Hall, who was one of the complainants, says: “The ASA cannot rule against the use of words that we might think are inflammatory but I am disappointed that more advisers did not exp­ress a view. You have to make a stand or you get walked over.”

Essential IFA managing director Peter Herd also made a complaint. He says: “It is a complete and utter whitewash. I would like the MAS to clearly spell out that it can only provide information. We need to educate the public that advice needs to be paid for and the Government should back that message.”

An MAS spokeswoman says: “We have noted the ASA’s decision and welcome the outcome.”

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Comments

There are 21 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. No #### Sherlock!

  2. I to was a complainant and agree this was a total whitewash.

    Only 80 people complained.

    Presumably the ASA was “leaned on”!

  3. Surprise, bloody surprise !

    “most consumers would understand………” was based upon what research and analysis ? In my experience, most consumers don’t understand very much at all, even when it is spelled out to them !

    This smacks of one quango scratching the back of another quango.

    We’re supposed to live in a free, democratic society – more hogwash !

  4. And one unaccountable quango backs the other. Quelle suprise!

    The corruption in this country is now utterly breathtaking.

  5. Isn’t it good news that the ASA have recognised that the advice provided by IFAs is “specific, technical and commercial” for which read meaningful and that provided by the MAS is only in a “general sense”?

    In other words what IFAs do is valauble and what MAS does is much less so.

    Result in favour of IFAs I would say

  6. Its a joke. If we used the word ‘mortgage’ in our advertising then we have to have various warnings and fee structures included. Advice is even more onerous and should also be subjected to the same rules we are. How on earth can they be called an ‘Advice’ servive and then not give advice. It is mis-leading in the extreme. They should be told to change name to the Money Information Service’ at least oir become regulated like the rest of us, hell we could do with some extra help to pay for all the mis-management of our fees and the ambulance chasing culture we are now in.

  7. Like others “Am I not surprised”, saw this coming from the beginning, no way would FSA let outcome be any different.
    Strongly smacks of ASA not having a clue what they are talking about.
    Advice and advise do NOT equal general information, the two are different – and it’s certainly not free either, but that’s a separate point
    What a pathetic outcome
    Yours disgustedly

  8. Well I was one of the 80. I received my knockback a few weeks ago. To be honest it wasn’t a surprise. The response was condescending, used jargon and looked like it had been written by the MAS itself. Whitewash seems a fair comment!

  9. I was one of the 80. For all the good its done I may as well be 1. Clearly some ‘advice’ is more equal than others (apologies to G. Orwell).

  10. Left Hand In “Washing Right” Shock

  11. If we extend the comment “most consumers would understand….” to include their understanding of commission, payment, trail etc then clearly we don’t need RDR. Just a thought……

  12. Quango backs Quango backs Quango.

  13. How can this be a whitewash? Only 80 people complained. Perhaps they saw this as evidence that the IFA industry didn’t see this as an issue if so few could be bothered to take action.

  14. Perhaps this is what the Russians meant when they told Cameron our legal system is totally corrupt.

  15. Also one of the 80!! Got my letter of response last week and as a previous reader said it was as thought the MAS wrote it themselves. Total white wash and by default is daming of the ASA. I actually thought the ASA might have critisized some of the advert but not one word. Disgusting. If it was proposed, would anyone consider taking part in a mass rally outside FSA headquarters? Come on, lets stop sitting on our ar@e’s and do something!

  16. This is not a whitewash. I too am shocked that only 80 complained. Although I was one, – I knew we were always on to a loser. Their judgement on”advice” was made on the basis of normal advertising standards, applied to soap flakes, holidays etc. They did not and could not consider the much more rigorous,specific definition applied by the FSA. Whilst the general public may understand the word, they certainly don’t understand the difference between a bank mortgage “adviser” providing information, and an IFA providing mortgage advice. The fault lies with the FSA not the ASA.

  17. re anon @ 9.38
    Probably more to do with the fact most IFAs’ are aware that they do not have a voice.
    They know that in the eyes of those in power, the IFA is not worth a second thought.
    They are simply cash cows who are forced to pay up and shut up or have their livliehood forcibly removed . The same powers invade oppressive regimes for less.

  18. Whilst most IFAs will disagree with the actual ruling, at least the matter has been brought out into the open.

    I suspect that the MAS will now be much more careful in the way it promotes itself. This can only be a good thing.

    If not, let’s hope we see more than 80 complaints next time – this is something for the Networks, Trade Bodies and the Support Service organisations to play their part – to encourage their members/customers to send in a letter of complaint.

    If the number had been 800…….or 8000, then perhaps we might have seen a slightly different response.

  19. Until the IFA community starts to sing with one voice and recognises that the term advice is crucial to our industry and our future profits we will continue to be overlooked and treated in such a high-handed way.

    Some of the people commenting here have stated that there are only 80 people actually complained so how can it be a whitewash. I would argue that’s part of the problem in Financial Services that the IFA community has sat back and just taken the never ending knocks and double standards within the industry. This advert in my opinion is clearly misleading and contravened some of the FSA’s own regulations on advertising, it also did nothing to support the new world of RDR and seems to be designed to put IFA out of business, as if you have a free service who would ever pay for advice. Just want to know who is going to be paying the fees to support this new service, when there are no IFA’s left.

    Oh I forgot -they’re still be the FSA’s pals the Banks – call me a cynic

  20. As a compliance approvals officer for a firm that does not provide advice – if this ad had come up to me for approval I would have immediately bounced it back as poor quality with the comment are you joking? Unbelievable – we have to be so careful to avoid the perception that we may be giving advice to the extent that we slap ‘no advice’ warnings on many of our pieces. One rule for one, and one for another. That said I suspect there are people within the FSA that, in hindsight, regret the use of that term but of course they won’t admit that now.

  21. I complained too.

    From the ensuing correspondence I gained the impression that it was one quango protecting another.

    Shamefuls?

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