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Inside Edge by ANNE McMEEHAN

Like most politicians, Chancellor Gordon Brown wants you to believe he knows what is best for you. Unlike Prime Minister Tony Blair, he does not necessarily want you to like him.

But give him the chance to show he can make the financial community toe the line, if necessary bullying it into delivering a fair deal to voters (sorry, I mean consumers), and he is your man.

According to the Chancellor, it is very easy. All you have to do is get the industry to present its wares in league tables. That will separate the wheat from the chaff. So, with no further ado, he has passed responsibility of their delivery to the FSA.

Further down the Thames, past St Thomas&#39s Hospital at Canary Wharf, it is easy to imagine that the FSA will have blenched. For, nowadays, it increasingly seems to understand how information is received by investors.

For the Chancellor to imply that choosing a financial product is as easy as finding out which football team is currently riding high, is not only to oversimplify the issue but is downright unhelpful.

Imparting information to the public so that more people can understand the nature and importance of personal financial planning and, therefore, be better equipped to make provision for their future financial security makes total sense.

But information disclosure must be clear, meaningful, comparable and, above all, in context. It also has to be against a background effort to educate consumers as to how to set about building a personal finance programme relevant to their needs, not just for today but for the short, medium and long term.

Nobody should underestimate the size of the task the FSA has been set. Wisely, it chose early on to jettison the Chancellor&#39s league table tag, opting for more sober and less misleading comparative tables. But the public focus, at least in the early stages, has clearly been on costs. Yet to assess costs without regard to return is as foolish as to consider reward without reference to risk. Information has to be supplied in context.

The good news is that,according to Autif research, people want more information. Past performance is still very high on the list of wants and remains considerably higher than information on costs.

Past performance is the actual experience of real investors after charges. It is the only way a fund can demonstrate its ability to meet its objectives, albeit in the past in conditions that can never be repeated in the future.

It is human nature to want to know the form of a product, a management company, its investment team and any manager responsible for day-to-day supervision of the portfolio.

Past performance reveals their competence versus that of competitors operating at the same time in the same market conditions. It is the equivalent of a corporate CV. As institutional fund managers know all too well, you will not get appointed without a credible one.

Nobody seriously believes that history repeats itself but, after careful consideration of the facts, most people would prefer to ensure their investments were overseen by an organisation that had clearly demonstrated its competence over a range of time periods in the past. To fail to give new investors that information is to leave them to the fortunes of pin-wielding.

Information from the financial community needs to be clear, fair and not misleading – a principle well worth adoption by more politicians.

Personal financial planning is not simple and to suggest there are easy solutions to highly complex issues is to court danger. Our reputations depend on it.

Anne McMeehan is director of communications at Autif.


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