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Barking up the wrong tree?

Pull the other one, Sir Howard. The chief regulator says decision trees are designed for use by advisers with clients. IFAs now know they were wrong to oppose trees all along. Rather than a desperate attempt to cut IFAs out of pensions, they were meant to make life easier.

A suspicious mind might say the trees went through the usual process. An idea is passed to the regulator which develops it, then once it is exposed to the punters, refines it. When finalised, you have something useful for the well-informed and hazardous for the ill-informed. It adds to the sum of understanding and misunderstanding but does not alter investor behaviour.

It gives birth to some very bizarre concepts such as tree walkers – surely climbers – while with league tables, the regulatory cousin of trees, it leads the FSA to jump through hoops to prove that past performance is no guide to the future although it doesn&#39t really know. The trees become a flowchart of debatable usefulness and league tables a slightly misleading price list although both can work with a qualified adviser.

But what is this rustling in the undergrowth? Is there something slightly tall, wooden and leafy about the new mortgage filters?

Perhaps now that trees have failed to inspire consumers directly, they will aid and abet low-cost advisers.

If this is the case, should we object? If the FSA is prepared to genuinely test the proposals to see if they work and pilot them to prove that trees, filters and tables cannot be abused by unscrupulous hard-sell merchants, then no. But if the new concept is untested, then yes. In that case, the trees are fine but only with qualified advisers.

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