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Generic advice out, money guidance in

A very dedicated crowd gathered at HM Treasury at 8:30 this morning to hear Otto Thoresen’s proposals for the generic advice channel.

But in fact his final report scrapped the term generic advice altogether in favour of a more user friendly alternative – money guidance – also known as a national impartial advice service.

Thoresen’s review concluded that the FSA should oversee the development and implementation of the service, at least in the short to medium term, rather than forming a new central body.

He says money guidance should be delivered through a partnership model of generalist and specialist partners and gave The Pensions Advisory Service and TaxAid as possible examples.

But exactly which organisations will be involved in actually giving the guidance remains unclear and the report is rather vague in that area.

Thoresen says the Government and the financial services industry should bear the brunt of the costs and estimates the yearly price tag to be around £49m. This is a hefty sum to swallow considering it is consumers who will reap the £15bn worth of benefits, not advisers.

Thoresen says the service would offer help with retirement planning, tax, savings, borrowing and budgeting and would need to operate on the principles of impartiality, supportiveness, crisis prevention, universality and should be sales free.

Consumers would be able to access the free guidance via face-to-face meetings, the internet and telephone lines, but the report says other methods such as podcasts and text messaging may also become available.

He has recommended that the Government implement a pathfinder project to test the proposals as soon as possible and says this should run for a minimum of 18 months.

Thoresen says the pathfinder would cost around £10m to implement and should be targeted to reach approximately 500,000 to 750,000 people.

He says: “I’m confident that such a pathfinder will validate my blueprint and act as a springboard to a full national service.”

The Government this morning confirmed that it plans to carry out the programme in association with the FSA and said more details will be released in the Spring.

Also high on the news agenda this week are the FSA’s concerns about advisers white-labelling their own funds.

The regulator warned it would not tolerate any return to the worst practices of broker funds.

Speaking at a Cicero Consulting conference last week, FSA director retail policy Dan Waters said the FSA had concerns about potential conflicts of interest and warned firms must be very careful such funds are run to a high standard.

He said: “We will take a very dim view of any firms that bring a return to the worst aspects of broker funds”.

IFDS group executive business development David Moffat, who has worked with a number of adviser firms to set up their own white-labeled funds, told delegates he believed much of the concern in this area is not warranted.

He said in many cases the total expense ratio is lower for clients and the IFAs are not involved in the running of money.

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