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FSA sticks up for MAS “free advice” advert

The FSA says it fully supports the Money Advice Service’s controversial TV ad despite a barrage of criticism from IFAs concerned about the message it sends to the public.

The 30-second ad, part of a £4m campaign, began airing last week and includes a voiceover which states: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

The ad (see below) has been widely criticised by advisers who are worried it suggests to consumers that advice is free and uses symbolic words associated with regulated independent advice.

There has also been concern that the message contradicts the retail distribution review goal of ensuring consumers understand the price and value of advice.

However, when questioned about the ad by Money Marketing at a conference in London this week, FSA director of conduct policy Sheila Nicoll said the MAS is clear in what it is offering. She said: “It is worth noting 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.”

The MAS is an independent body funded by an industry levy which amounted to £43.7m this year. Advisers began receiving their FSA invoices this week which included the costs of their contribution to the MAS.

Aifa director general Stephen Gay argues that the public may be confused and potentially misled by the ads.

He says: “The use of the phrase ’independent and unbiased’ advice is not helpful. What the public understands by advice is going to somebody who knows more about a particular subject, who will help, who is on their side and, most important, who will take responsibility for that advice. We should not endanger this concept by inappropriate use of language.”

Michael Philips owner Michael Both says: “A national advertising campaign talking about free advice as ’a breath of fresh air’ is wrong.

“If the FSA is remotely serious about getting the public to appreciate there is a value to independent advice, then it should not support this advert. The MAS is not giving advice, it is an information service.” chief executive Karen Barratt says the use of the term “unbiased” could give the IFA search service a boost as more consumers may search for the term online. She adds: “The word that I have a problem with, like the rest of the IFA community, is advice. I think it is actually information.”



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There are 39 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. As long as they are not allowed to recommend a product, or refer to a particular provider, IFA then it is OK.Many people are intimidated about approaching IFA’s assuming, wrongly, that they are for rich people only. (To be frank, do you honestly want the kind of customer who is likely to call this type of service).

  2. Since 1985 I have been offering free generic advice to those who ask a simple question, nothing new here then?

  3. Bonkers, how many other businesses in the UK are forced to pay to create competion? When was the last time you heard of the local grocer offering to pay the rent at Tescos.

  4. Julian Stevens 16th June 2011 at 9:29 am

    Why didn’t the FSA consult those who are going to be forced to pay for it on just what it intended to achieve with the MAS and how it would be presented to the public? Is even its name, for example, a good or appropriate choice? What was the thinking behind changing it from the MGS? Then again, would the FSA have taken any notice of whatever feedback it received? Or is it just another case of We think this is a good idea, this is how it’s going to work, this is what it’s going to cost, so just pay up or pack up.

  5. Without sounding really silly, and many would say I usually do, but, …. Why should we pay for this?

  6. i read many of these email/online articles, many about subjects such as these, RDR, TCF all mainly related to how the FSA are doing what they want, when they want.

    Generally commentors like Stephen Gay says..Micheal Both says.. Karen Barrett says..waffle on about we don’t like this or that and absolutely nothing gets done about it. WE ALL allow it to happen, they and we might as just well go back to moaning about the weather!

  7. I think the FSA needs to decide which side of the fence it wants to sit. Set the rules and stop changing them. Too much too soon and all being pushed through far to fast to try to beat EU regulation.

  8. Surely the more people made aware of the need to seek advice the better.
    I know for a fact ( My friend is an “adviser” with the programme) that the vast majority of people they interact with need basic financial education.
    Anyone who is seeking more specific advice is recommended that they contact an Independent Adviser.
    Surely this is better than having to compete with the man in the pub.
    The fact is that most advisers have ( for business reasons ) already decided that they are not interested in dealing with this part of the marketplace .
    This does not mean that IFA,s have the copywrite to the term “advice”.
    I am afraid most IFA’s abdicated their responsabilities for this many years ago.

  9. This is a glimpse of the post-RDR world. The downward pressure on fees will mean that IFAs as we know them will disappear. This includes the so-called fee-based advisers now. There are no fee-based advisers while there are commissions to rebate or compare with. Come to think of it, many of the so-called fee based advisers now are really unit trust advisers and can hardly be considered IFAs.

  10. That the FSA is unaccountable and out of control is hardly indisputable but to give the public the impression that they can magic ‘free advice’ from nowhere deceives nobody. Jo public knows full well that if it’s free it’s not worth anything.
    If the MAS really recommends independent advisors to enquirers, it should be honest and make it clear that the advert and supporting information source is paid for by independents. That way the industry might just have a little confidence in one part of the FSA and the direction of its policies and the public too.

  11. Lindsay Lockett 16th June 2011 at 10:22 am

    Why don’t the IFAs/industry mystery shop the MAS every now and then and publish the results. That was if they stray into giving advice it will be documented and if they do end up supporting the financial services industry in the their own little way we might just feel happier about paying for it.

  12. The FSA seem odd in their justifcation of this advert and again I find myself asking do they actually undestand what they are trying to achieve?

    Surely it just reinforces the ‘something for nothing’ argument that the industry has been trying to leave behind. There are no free lunches and clients are finally getting the picture over the last 5 years – then along comes this advert. I agree it is confusing the picture and unnecessily muddying the waters. IFAP’s website and adverts are more focused, practical and clear.

    It makes more sense if they would say the service is free to the public and is funded by the financial services industry.

  13. We all know where the FSA can stick it.

  14. I do have an issue about the fact that we are paying for this. Looking at the numbers it is an even bigger concern! If the annual levy brings in £3.7m and the current advertising campaign is £4m, this means that they are already running at a substantial loss. At what point do we learn how much this is really going to cost? How will the success of this new service be measured?

  15. The principles behind MAS are correct-a generic service to start people thinking in the correct way.

    However the message that “joe public” will get is wrong i.e. They can use this service and get free advice (which for the average person means “tell them where they should put their money”).

    I think MAS and IFA can work in harmony. However MAS must enusre that their publicity is celar to all that they are in the introductory/generic role and that they will not make recommendations.

    If not, then nobody wins!

  16. Has it been reported/complained to ASA? They do not ‘like’ adverts ‘playing with words’. But do not complain as an IFA but as a consumer.

    Generic information is not advise. RDR was first set up to clarify the difference.

    FSA’s rules clearly states that the consumer must have a choice to pay a fee.

  17. “ chief executive Karen Barratt says the use of the term “unbiased” could give the IFA search service a boost as more consumers may search for the term online.”
    How transparent is Ms Barrett? If you put ‘unbiased’ into a google search that organisation is at the top of the results so it is great for them as it encourages more IFAs to give them £299 per year plus vat to be on the site. What a joke.

  18. Let’s not go down the “FREE” as in free NHS health care! It’s not Free Advice at all – we pay for it! It’s the same daft socialist twaddle that says the NHS is free. The FSA would love to become the NHS of financial services and this is what the FSA is all about. The FSA want yet more power and more control – Nationalisation of Financial Services!

    Personally I don’t trust the government with my money and I don’t trust the FSA. The NHS is paid for by taxpayers and 80% of that cost is wages and pension – 80%!!! The NHS is an additional tax on earnings and the FSA is an additional tax on consumers who will pay via charges on products.

  19. I have no issue with the promotional aspects of this and believe that the quality of client we all want will either come direct to the IFA or find that by using the service that full and proper advice is needed and thus seek out an IFA. But, how can the regulator who seeks openness, clarity, fairness and honesty support adviertising that states ‘advice’ when it is not advice, and ‘free’ when it is not free – we are paying for it and in reality so are the clients who pay our fees. Is this not cross-subsidy by smoke and mirrors? As for the commentators at AIFA and such it is not time we stopped wasting our hard earned money on associations and people who deliever nothing – who and what are they really and would the FSA do anything different if they weren’t around?

  20. The £299 is an optional charge for which we provide many additional benefits than just being listed on the Find an IFA search – for instance you can join to Bluebook media IFA directory, join Professional Connections – our business to business referral network and will receive monthly visitor stats on your entry, consumers will be able to contact you by requesting a call back and can view you website and social media profiles. Our database allows any IFA to register and have details promoted to consumers. is a not-for-profit organisation with all income going straight back out on the promotion of advisers. The PR work we do, the updating of the database, the pay per click campaigns, search engine optimisation and placing of white label searches on over 70 partner sites all costs money and I thank the advisers paying into the pot because without them we wouldn’t be able to run the campaign we do for the benefit of ALL IFAs.

    We have a small budget and I and my team of three have to work with what we’ve got. Looking at it positively I like to think the MAS will stimulate demand for independent financial advice and we will work with them in order to get as much traffic through to our listed IFAs.


  21. My view is that the typical client base of MAS will not reflect the typical IFA client base. I think that the outcome of this type of service is laudable in its intent, but I do agree that in this instance, the FSA are a bit ingenuous with their defence arguments.
    My feeling is that the regulator should stick to regulation. Education might be part of their overall objectives but I am doubtful that they, or their money advice spin off regimes, are the best vehicle for this. The budget allocated for this type of educational activity is astronomic. And I do know that much of this money is spent on ‘consultants’ working in No. 1 Canada Square!

  22. If the word “advice” is used can we assume that in the event of a complaint being made, the FOS/FSA will consider it within their remit?

  23. The temptation to parody this advert with a different sound-over is just too tempting…is the cartoon guy Hector grinning about his bonus… the cloud is surely the FSA blowing HMS unbiased advice off course whilst the FOS seagul craps all over it?

    Even better it is cartoon format so the possibilities to edit the frames are endless! Ridicule is miles getter than complaining about it.

    BTW any video you think is ‘inappropriate ‘ can be flagged as such on U-tube. .

  24. “The FSA says it fully supports the Money Advice Service’s controversial TV ad despite a barrage of criticism from IFAs concerned about the message it sends to the public.” – To paraphrase the evidence a certain Mandy Rice-Davies said in a well-known 1963 trial, “Well they would. wouldn’t they!” (And we all know what she was…)

  25. It makes me laugh reading this article that the basic definition around “advice” – something which we all deal with on a day to day basis cannot be agreed on. Its simple – its not advice – its a information only service – yet its marketed as “advice” – misleading…I think so. If any IFA, FA, Bank were misleading to that level in the UK over something so basic the FSA would come down hard on it. Yet because its come from the upper echelons of the ivory towers its somehow develops a different rule.

    FSA’s Sheila Nicoll “It is worth noting the MAS is very clear that it is generic advice that it is providing”

    Michael Philips “The MAS is not giving advice, it is an information service.”

    Now come on! If you don’t know what it means – Don’t use it!

  26. For what it’s worth, I went through a couple of the “wizards” on the site.

    They do give generic advice and it seems pretty solid too.

    It seems like a very good service to me and I, as a rule, don’t agree with much of what the FSA instigate.

  27. I have just taken one of the tests on the MAS website and before it gives you the summary the following message appears:

    What next?
    By taking the time to answer these questions, you’ve already taken the first step towards making the most of your money. We’ve created an action plan for you based on what you told us.

    What you’ll get:
    – advice based on your answers
    – things to do – starting with the most important
    – easy-to-follow steps

    We’re not regulated by the Financial Services Authority so we can’t give you a specific recommendation on whether a particular product is suitable for you. If you need regulated financial advice, consult a professional financial adviser

    Now I would argue by saying you will get ‘advice’ based on your answers even though you have the disclaimer at the bottom is not clear, fair and is misleading. If it is an information only service, then say it is.

  28. I don’t have any great problem with the principle of an information service but as always am bemused by the contradictory attitudes expressed by the FSA.

    When does advice mean advice? What does ‘independent’ mean?

    IFAs are being dissuaded from using social media as their blogs/tweets might be misleading or deemed to be promotions but this advertising campaign drives a coach and horses through this principle.

    I don’t think the MAS will have a long lifespan as it’s an indulgent fad being funded in a quite cavalier fashion using other people’s money. The CAB’s would do a better job for much less but this wouldn’t of course create a new QUANGO in the regulatory gravy train.

  29. Totally agree with the comment:

    “If the FSA is remotely serious about getting the public to appreciate there is a value to independent advice, then it should not support this advert. The MAS is not giving advice, it is an information service.”

    There is a difference between information and advice and the avert should be clear it is giving information in certain instances, promote the value ot taking professional, independent ADVICE.

  30. Well they would support now, woudn’t they? These people are allowed to ride rough shod over all in the Financial Services Industry. They are supposed to be here to regulate, instead they could be deemed to copulate

  31. I haven’ t seen the advert but it sounds as though it could be misleading to the public. Surely if enough IFAs complain to the Advertising Standards Agency and it is not explicit that they are talking about generic advice they may have to withdraw it.

  32. Advertising Standards Agency – As Stepehen Gay says, “The MAS is not giving advice, it is an information service.” Has anyone complained to the ASA yet?
    Were it not for the name “Money ADVICE Service” I’d actually be quite positive about the MAS.
    HOWEVER the MAS should be part of general taxation, we should not have to pay this, it is cross subsidy as many IFAs have pointed out, we will have to take money from clients who will NOT be using this service to subsidize those that do. It is one thing to do this through taxation as you elect the people who set the taxes, but quite another to allow a quango to set and collect.
    I think I might send several cheques for my FSA fees this year and separate out the MAS fee and put in some kind of condition that they have to meet to present the cheque.

  33. FSA and MAS are simply quango-leeches as are the numerous other government bodies feeding from the financial services trough. They all sing from the same hymn sheet trying to justify their existence.

  34. Derek Campbell 18th June 2011 at 9:57 am

    Why dosent this government get a grip of this Quango monster and stop it in its tracks. The more and more I read about these idiots in the FSA the more I cringe. The MAS suits them because it is government backed and they dont want to go there when it comes to opinion. If anyone watched the treasury select commitee grill this lot then you would be led to believe that the FSA were finished, however this dosent seem to be the case !

  35. I’ve just done a “health check”. Can’t see the public finding at all useful. Just tells you what yoy already know.

  36. with relation to FSA statement that MAS makes it clear in advert the advice is generic I dont remeber seeing or hearing that and after going on website I dont see it either . The should either advise or not. If this all goes wrong Ill be dammed if I am going to pay for another FSA mess

  37. For all the reasons others have so eloquently expounded, MAS is a total farce. It will, of course, claim massive success on the basis of millions of hits, most of which will be made by people in the industry. In truth, the people with the greatest need for advice always have the lowest propensity to seek it, electronically or otherwise.

    The Government – for MAS is effectively a Government initiative – should know better than to risk hostages to fortune, and the industry people who have got involved with this should also know better than to get between the sheets with regulators and politicians.

    But MAS does point up an opportunity. Financial advice that does not involve recommending a particular regulated product is not regulated. Watch out for the unregulated (no exams, whoopee) advice business introducing to the commonly owned regulated arm.

  38. The question has been asked why are we paying for this? Personally I feel it should be the tax payer but anyone who has revised R01 will know that the FSA has a responsibility or education which is why the MAS fee has replaced the education fee. So the FSA have every right to do this. However, to double the fee at a time when many IFAs are struggling with the costs of the RDR and the economic situation is unacceptable. Yet again the FSA are treating us as an open cheque book.

  39. …so, let me get this right, we are/will be obliged to charge fees for our services which go to pay the FSA fees which they then use to undermine our business proposition by offering free advice – their advert does not make clear they offer generic advice and do they pay a levy to the FSCS for their part in mis-selling?…I doubt it. As usual, IFAs have to pick up the tab – the FSA are the new bullies on the block.

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