The following statement can be found on the part of the BBC website which publishes transcripts of various programmes they transmit on radio and television. It precedes the transcript of a Panorama programme which is now legendary in adviser circles.
“Correction: Monday's broadcast commentary contained two errors which have been corrected in this transcript and on repeat broadcasts. The secretly filmed adviser was incorrectly called an independent financial adv-iser, while also being correctly identified as a representative of Allied Dunbar. We apologise for any confusion this may have caused. Ian MacQueen Sims was incorrectly identified as an actuary instead of as an adviser.”
It is fascinating to delve around this site and well worth a visit if you have the time. You can revisit over and over again classic documentary gaffs, such as the infamous Panorama endowment selling programme, and revel in the multitude of inaccuracies.
It is a very good way of keeping up to date with the various financial programmes that the BBC transmits but without having to endure the tedious bits – and it is a lot quicker to read it than listen to it.
The above transcript illustrates perfectly the problem faced by us all. We are all suffering from complexity overload, an ailment that seems to have no known cure.
Presumably, the people who put this programme together were experienced professional documentary makers at the peak of their careers. They would, therefore, understand the need to be absolutely spot on when doing something as important as identifying an individual's identity and title. They would no doubt realise that people get highly hacked off when they are described as something other than what they actually are.
Yet clearly they had no idea that an Allied Dunbar salesman was as far from being an IFA as the moon. I suspect that they had no idea one way or the other what difference it could possibly make.
But to us, it makes all the difference – millions of people across the country were left with the impression that IFAs are crooked. A pathetic internet apology will not make a difference as the damage has been done.
This steady trickle of misinformation by often well-intentioned people is eroding consumer confidence. Add to this the more recent problems of the pension review, Equitable Life and Independent Insurance and you have a consuming public that is ceasing to consume.
We have a situation where the people with power and influence (the popular media and politicians) are the people who are making the rules and issuing guidance. The only trouble is, they do not understand their subject well enough when it comes to the finer points and it is these finer points that can make all the difference.
Take the pension review. All they had to do was understand the difference between opt-outs, non-joiners and transfers. That is all. Nothing too difficult to get to grips with, one could argue. But you and I know otherwise. By not understanding the difference, it has cost this nation the earth.
As Garry Heath calmly slipped into a recent article, the review has cost upwards of £16bn. Not terribly good value for money, one could argue.
I wonder what would have happened if they had limited the review to just opt-outs and non-joiners?
The Equitable Life saga is following a similar line. We all know it is Equitable Life's arrogant assumption of not losing a court case in relation to guaranteed annuity rates that is the issue. But for some strange reason, we seem to be mutating this to with-profits are bad because most Equitable Life policyholders were invested in the company's with-profits fund.
Never mind all the years of top performance from a wide range of firms when a good story will do – and, of course, a good reason to continue to employ hordes of civil servants.
I could not care less if they used magic to get the returns as long as they do. And if they do not, they all know that IFAs will not recommend them any more. It is called market forces.
Once you had clients that were unquestionably pro-pensions. Now they question the very foundation of their future finances. They are looking to other forms of investment as an alternative and who can blame them? No wonder there is a savings gap, with all the negative messages flying about.
Has any politician ever stood back and asked themselves why the lower-paid do not save? It is because they cannot afford to. They have no money to save. At the end of the month, all they want to do is spend their hard-earned money on cigarettes, alcohol and scratch cards. No amount of new dynamic political change will alter this unavoidable fact.
A letter from Julian Stevens in Money Marketing recently sums it up well. He said: “But then that's civil servants for you. Isn't it? No commercial or business acumen, yet arrogantly convinced they know what is best for everyone else.”
All I would add is that the first politician to leave it all alone will be the true visionary.
Tom Kean is compliance officer at The Analysts