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Inside EDGE ANNE MCMEEHAN

It does not take a genius to recognise that if you want something that is absolutely right for you and you are looking for value for money, it makes sense to shop around. The problem is, though, that the process of shopping around is seldom an appealing experience. Boring is the word that springs to mind.

Of course, you will find techies of all ages loitering for hours in shops in Tottenham Court Road keenly scrutinising the latest bit of kit from Silicon Valley. There is no doubt that some music lovers can stand at counters whiling away entire afternoons listening before they make a decision. In fact, whole new vistas of analysis are opened up by prospective car buyers eager to absorb any amount of minutiae. However, put pla-inly, most of us find the process unmitigated tedium.

We may have an enthusiasm, passion, obsession even for the goods themselves or the purpose they serve but, for most of us, for most things, this tends not to include the selection process. The result is that many of us are pretty careless when we shop.

Ashamedly, 20 years ago, much of the financial services industry placed all too much reliance on that carelessness and in large part thrived on it. Increasing regulation and, more importantly, standardisation have meant that many commercial ways have been mended, albeit there are many fetishes of more exacting consumerists still to be met. But the most important area, scarcely touched by the manner in which regulation has been tackled so far, is surely that of how to deal with typical investor behaviour.

You can take a horse to water but you can&#39t make it drink may be an old proverb but it is still highly relevant in the context of today&#39s financial services industry.

The consumer nowadays has to deal with massive inf-lows of information. But, all too clearly, this has done little to offset ignorance. Alarmingly, in spite of all the right regulatory intentions, quite the opposite can happen, as any information deemed excessive by consumers is discarded.

Financial services regulation has seemingly been app-roached on the basis that all transactions are based on an objective assessment of the marketplace. Yet it is human nature to make subjective rather than objective decisions. Providing access to standardised information is just the first step. It is the interpretation of that information which makes it meaningful to the individual, which is why most people seek some kind of advice.

Autif&#39s recent Facets res-earch reveals that 68 per cent of people prefer to get information on a face-to-face basis. Other information sources get much lower scores – leaf-lets 17 per cent, newspapers and magazines 10 per cent and websites 4 per cent.

IFAs and banks are the most trusted sources of information, each scoring 31 per cent, (Government 3 per cent, employers 3 per cent, schools, colleges, etc 2 per cent).

More than half of the sample agreed that they were increasingly more likely to shop around for products, with 41 per cent seeing charges as an important feature to consider, 34 per cent past performance and 20 per cent the financial strength of the provider.

But before we preen ourselves, believing that the industry has made real headway in getting people to act respon-sibly and participate actively in planning their future financial security, it is worth remembering that 42 per cent of those surveyed were unsure about savings and investment issues.

More depressingly, 67 per cent were not interested in finding out more. Human nature remains the major obstacle.

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