In my last Money Marketing column I proposed that the Government should provide a national advice service. Free to use at the point of need, it should be a truly advice-giving service, not one simply based on providing guidance. The idea attracted rather a lot of attention. Not all of it positive.
The ubiquitous nature of modern technology, along with the recent developments in the field of robo-advice, makes such a socially beneficial development both possible and timely. People can now be reached in their millions through the powerful computers we all carry in our pockets.
Indeed, we live in a very different world to the one I encountered when I first started working in financial services over four decades ago. In those days, we had near universal coverage of financial advice provided by the monolithic industrial branch insurance companies. The local field staff of those institutions were able to provide one-on-one help to millions of families and address their everyday financial needs.
In many ways, we lost a lot when that obviously costly and inefficient service was replaced by our modern financial services sector. Today, we are able to provide a much higher level of professional advice and help to people but the availability of such advice is limited. It is limited by price and, as many respondents to my last article argued, necessity.
There is a strong argument that people with little or no money need little or no advice.
But while I understand that argument when looked at from the point of view of a commercial interest in providing advice, I completely disagree with it when looked at from the point of view of the population as a whole.
Regardless of the level of our disposable wealth, we will all meet complex and challenging financial problems at certain stages of our lives. Such issues will be more important to us than taking best advantage of the investment opportunities offered to us.
My key argument is that a basic level of advice can be provided for all people nowadays at an affordable cost because of the advances in technology and connectedness thanks to our internet age. My secondary argument is that such widespread access to advice is unlikely to have its genesis within our financial services industry.
There is certainly no indication that any large institution is looking to provide free access to advice for ordinary people. Nor is it difficult to understand why such an attitude is unlikely to exist within corporate entities. It is for this reason that the provision of a national advice service should be funded by the Government through general taxation.
I am not anti-advice sector. Quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed, I was pleased to see some respondents to my last article agreeing with me that the provision of advice for all would likely lead to an increase in demand for the services of professional financial advisers. It is such an enlightened attitude that I hope will hold sway as this important national debate develops.
Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits