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Drop the pilot

Given the success of reality TV, perhaps we need a show based on someone getting their financial affairs in order. If people are prepared to watch a show based on budget airlines, why not film those planning for their future?

Last week, I attended a meeting at the Treasury to witness the launch of the generic fact-find or financial healthcheck. Those in attendance included the “firms” (the FSA&#39s preferred term for anyone in the market) and the consumer lobby.

After the perfunctory keynote address, we were treated to a demo of the pilot. We saw that the FSA had determined what it felt was necessary to arrive at a priority list for action and even went so far as to suggest – or was it recommend? – the minimum level of additional life cover.

The input required the client to have at hand details of credit card and loan APRs, etc, and I would question whether many of those in the target group would know where to look, let alone have these readily to hand.

The output was in a scrolling format and I would guess its length ran to six or more screens. If that is not enough to put anyone off action, I don&#39t know what is.

To communicate with the target audience, we need to view things from their perspective. What struck me about this pilot was that, if watching paint drying catches on, this might have some chance of success.

To get people engaged, a fact-find based on the style of a computer game, with its varied levels, could just catch on. But that takes imagination and real creativity as opposed to the regurgitation of what closely resembles a self-assessment tax form.

Now, some might say I have been overly critical of what may be a step in the right direction but, to be completely honest, this pilot is a step in the opposite direction from the target group.

Let us assume that the FSA devises a generic fact-find and then sets out some filter questions on products (or, if the EU prevents this option, it sets out the questions to determine a focused approach to advice).

The IFA then takes this information and does not need to validate it. He subsequently sells a Sandler-style product. There would be no potential for complaints against the firm and the role of the ombudsman would be reduced, if not removed. This would certainly be reinforced if, in addition to the generic fact-find, filter or focus and Sandler products, we also had a definition of misselling.

Being able to rely on the customer-compiled fact-find is crucial to firms supporting the initiatives which flow from Sandler. Without this safe harbour, why should any firm take part?

On this basis, one of the UK&#39s biggest banks said it would take part, which promoted a consumerist to state that, if the banks liked it, it must be bad.

To end on a high, the Treasury implied that the door is open for the 1 per cent charge to rise, providing the case is well made. We may even see the acceptance of a 3 to 5 per cent charge in year one followed by 0.75 to 1 per cent in subsequent years.

Let&#39s not miss our chance. The Government needs the help of the “firms”. Let&#39s not forget to barter.

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