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Independent view

The BBC’s disclaimer seems to be pointing everyone in the direction of IFAs but what will multi-ties make of it?

I suspect that some would say I could be charged with having a pop at the BBC a little too often. If the truth be known, I love the BBC, it is just that it is so easy to pick on because of its vast output.

In fact, I feel sorry for it in a way as it is never going to win. Take its standard disclaimer at the foot of every piece of web-based material produced by journalists (and other contributors) proffering anything remotely implying financial advice.

“The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.”

Funnily enough, I have commented on this before and coincidentally it changed shortly afterwards to what you see above. I would love to think that the BBC changed it because of me but, alas, I suspect it was months in the making at vast license payers’ expense, with some very clever lawyers.

It is the last sentence, though, that makes me wonder (although the “refrain from making” bit makes me titter). On the face of it, I like it. I like the fact that the BBC has bothered to define where it thinks people should go and get advice. Clearly, it is pointing everyone in the direction of IFAs and for this I thank them most heartily.

But it does pose some tasty questions about the up and coming regime change to multi-ties, quasi-ties, tied advisers and so on.

I wonder what the tied companies think of the current BBC disclaimer? How does this affect the likes of Bradford & Bingley? Are we now to assume that the BBC does not really suggest that customers darken their doorway ever again?Or perhaps these organisations have done their own research and come to the conclusion that people do not understand either way and possibly, more importantly, do not care either way (I trust not on the latter point).

If we assume that people do not understand too well the differences between advisers now, what hope do they have when we start to blur the edges with hybrid versions?As ever, the more complicated a system, the easier it is for criminals to work it their way. If we only had IFAs, for example, and a regulator which regulated everything to do with money, we would eventually know what was what.

The way forward currently proposed is, I suspect, a step in the wrong direction but the momentum it now has is so vast that not even Hercules could push it back. Ves-ted interests are clearly at play and there is nothing any of us can do to stop it.

I remember reading in 2002 on IFA Online about a case of advisers calling themselves “facilitators”, which highlighted the lack of consumer awareness and total misunderstanding of technical issues such as disclosure.

To quote IFA Online’s prophetic reporter back then: “The fact that duped clients believed that they were buying investments through people who claimed access to proper investment schemes pinpoints the difficulty that the FSA will have when trying to implement a new definition of IFA or any other kind of financial adviser in the post-CP166 world.”

I do not want to be accused of whinging but in the real world, all but the most hardy of lovers of small print glaze over with the current offering of key features and terms of business letters, not to mention the product brochure and suitability letter.

Now they will be faced with three (?) more pages of the new menu which, if early drafts are anything to go by, will completely flummox them into a haze of nauseous panic.

Who can blame them? A key features document I gave out a while ago was so long that I had to correct myself when I suggested this was the cut to the chase bit of the literature. Um, not any more it’s not. But it did not matter, the client’s employer pays into the scheme and she appeared blissfully unaware of the negative image that pensions have these days.

I know exactly why we all have to do this – the reasons are entirely laudable. But it has got to the stage where we either have to shout for it to stop or ask that other areas be simplified. So I appeal again to the FSA – how about the next diktat is a rule requiring us to stop doing something. There must be something they can do to cheer us all up in time for Christmas?Tom Kean is business development director at The Analysts


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