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Martin Lewis: MSE should not be regulated like IFAs

Lewis-Martin-2012-700x450.jpg founder Martin Lewis says advisers’ client meetings have “massive evidential issues” and claims his website should not be judged alongside the advice industry.

In a interview with Money Marketing, to be published in full in our next issue, Lewis hits back at criticism his website is not under close enough scrutiny.

He says that, unlike advisers, every piece of content produced by the website is open to the oversight of millions of people.

As a consequence, Lewis, who says he is a “big supporter” financial advice, argues the tighter regulatory regime advisers operate under is justified.

He says: “I have had IFAs having a go saying it’s outrageous that our site is not regulated.

“We are regulated in some areas where it is necessary to be but the bigger point is you can’t deny that if an IFA were to give some horrendous advice one-on-one in their office you have massive evidential issues with what’s happened.

“In my job we publish to 15 million users a month and you can check whatever we’ve written back in time, I have no deniability.

“So there is an implicit scrutiny of those of us who work in mass media and I would argue our scrutiny, while it is not regulatory scrutiny, is just as tight.

“You can’t do an equal judgment between someone hidden in a back office and a very open, transparent website that is on the record with everything it does and gives information to millions of people.”

Informed Choice managing director Martin Bamford says: “We work in a highly regulated structure and we’re members of professional bodies, we hold a high standard of ethics, and you simply don’t have that if you’re the owner of a price comparison website.”


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There are 25 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I’ve been on a radio panel on 5Live with Mr Lewis, and applaud the work he has done in getting financial education in schools. However, there is a point here that he overlooks. Over the years as his personal profile has risen, more and more of the public look to his website and TV appearances for ‘guidance’.

    There is a fine line between giving guidance and advice. With that large profile comes responsibility and he needs to have the realisation that the public will act on what he says (as per Paul Lewis).

    So, as in the past he stated ‘go for a fees free mortgage broker’ (as if that was ‘better’ than a fee charging one) then that is something that the public strive for (in line with the ‘Money Saving’ element of the site). However, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘best guidance’ as not all ‘fees free’ brokers offer the service the client may wish to have.

    My point is this – you can’t give ‘guidance’ in a heavily regulated arena, make money from it, without the same oversight requirements of the rest of us who can’t sneeze without approval.

  2. He’s completely right and it’s total nonsense that he should be regulated. He can only ever give guidance because he cannot, by definition, make a personal recommendation for a regulated product. All he can do is give broad information along the lines of ‘This looks good, check this out and see if it applies to you’.

    Anyone calling for MSE to be regulated has either never read its content or doesn’t understand regulation.

  3. I disagree .. What has he to fear from regulation? To class his comments merely as guidance is nonsense. That’s his get-out of jail free card..The people in the sort of market he is aiming at do take action based on his comments. I have met quite a few over the past few years who have followed his advice ( whoops sorry) guidance…

  4. I surrendered my CF30 license back in January 2013 as I was but 3 years from retirement at 65 (later this year) and had no wish after 30 years as an IFA to undertake the time and effort and cost for a study program to achieve the appropriate RDR minimum level 4 qualification. If I were now to suggest to a client new or existing that an ISA might be preferable to a Pension or vice versa …I would be throwing myself to the mercy of the FCA so why should Martin Lewis be able to do so without impunity

  5. Banks and Building societies only gave guidance in the past and look how much business resulted from that guidance. Of course they can only do advised sales now and his website guidance is totally different but consumers follow his website guidance to the letter, so much so they’ll even tell you they followed his advice. Foggy, grey area or what?

  6. What has he to fear from regulation? Plenty. Not least among it
    * Ever-increasing fees
    * Hours of time spent meeting FCA reporting requirements
    * Being subject to whatever is the next regulatory flavour of the month

    Given all the above, I would happily be unregulated if that were an option but, because I DO provide advice, for me that door is closed.
    His website however does enjoy that freedom and I can see why he wishes to retain it.

    Personally, I am in broad agreement that he should not need to be regulated in the way that advisers are regulated (partly for the reasons he outlines). However, I do believe the regulators need to be on top of his remuneration structure and conducting an assessment of his ‘affiliate links’. The MSE Editorial Code reads very nicely but I am not naive enough to swallow it whole. MSE is a commercial entity and where there is commerce there is potential for a conflict of interest. Possibly the FCA do already look as such issues

  7. There is no doubt that such websites and D2C offerings influence distribution, with the commercial advantages that brings, so I would expect the FCA to be interested, if only to ensure that financial promotions rules are not being breached.

  8. I’m very familiar with these arguments from another arena, that of crowdfunding. Especially the ‘we have to so why shouldn’t you’ one. Which is of course self-serving jealousy not reason.

    Martin Lewis is right. He has transparency and this brings better and greater scrutiny than any regulator can provide – from both the crowd and the regulator who can also see everything because it’s out-there. If an IFA’s work were also public there would be little of no need for them to have such a strict regime as they could and would be checked up on as a matter of course and bad behaviour could not be covered up. It is the fact that they’re trusted to operate under the cover of privacy that means there has to be some other form of scrutiny.

    Regulation is there to protect people and block the abuse that goes on in private. It has a very high cost in terms of friction, flexibility, time and money – not to mention competition and for these reason should always be kept to a minimum, as unnecessary and over-regulation is bad for everyone, especially the consumer, except for the incumbents who use it as a barrier to entry to bolster their position and keep out competition.

    The IFAs may be unhappy but there is no evidence of detriment to consumers (quite the opposite) otherwise both they and the FCA would be all over it. So regulating Paul’s expert opinion, which no one is obliged to take or listen to, would impose costs, bring inflexibility and infringe free speech for no good reason while restricting or silencing a force for openness and good for consumers. Which might suit IFAs – but if the industry exists to serve the consumer, not the other way around, that’s hardly the point.

    It’s amazing how the point is so quickly lost however when regulation is discussed – especially by the regulated.

  9. Who paid the compensation to the investors who invested into Iceland banks that he and his website recommended?

  10. A Web site that has the name Money Saving Expert and has 10 pages of article on pensions -what I and many people need to know is this:

    What is Martin’s
    qualifications if any in the area of pensios to be called an expert?!

    After all the least article on his website titled. Pension Freedom – Martin Lewis 5 minute briefing.

    Now I am confused I thought that a journalist is someone that reportshe the news not someone that adviser’s and is the news!

    I think many people using this site DO NOT realize that the articles have sponsored pay for clicks links and that this sites may NOT offer the best deals in the market place.

    Should this information not be in bold print instead of small print at the bottom. It is after all called treating clients fairly!!

  11. Of course he doesn’t, want to be regulated ….what sane person would ?
    Mr lewis is fully aware of the ramifications of life under a unaccountable monster like the FCA !! Costs with no beginning or end, paperwork, rules, and process that have little or no conceivable direction or consumer benefit. It would make his life hell….. a far cry from the land of milk and honey where he is now !

    People like Martin Lewis push the boundaries, but do I think they should be regulated ?

    Yes …. with a resounding NO ! I wouldn’t wish that on any-one.

  12. MSE should be regulated. I always had a problem with ML and MSE, he actively encourages Joe public to waste our time ,
    Only two weeks ago , i sat in front of a client on a 10 yr fixed remortgage at 5.79% ( Nram) i asked who advised them on this , they stated “That Money Saving Expert on the TV was telling me people to fix their mortgage so we did ”
    Yes, he is transparent to the industry but when Joe Public listen to him, which they do , he should be regulate d

  13. Douglas Baillie 24th August 2015 at 9:52 am

    Perhaps Mr Lewis protesteth just a little too much?

  14. Agree with most of the above. I take ML’s point about being ‘regulated by the public’ etc, but to call himself ‘expert’ is putting himself out there as ‘qualifed to advise’, whether that qualification is by virtue of exams or experience (grandfathering, anyone?). He relies on ‘implicit scrutiny’ from the public, but he ignores that he is effectively a walking, talking, blogging financial promotion and therefore he surely must inwardy acknowledge that people are taking what he says as gospel, especially if he is hyper-critical of IFAs, banks etc and tells you what you ‘should be doing’. What measures does he take to ensure that ‘vulnerable customers’ watching TV are not acting on his expert guidance? How does he moderate his self-promotion?

    He sounds like the FCA in saying that he does not advise, he merey guides. Guidance itself differs, in my opinion, from explaining choice. Guidance is guiding someone towards a decision or outcome; it is not saying, ‘these are the choices and this is the info – do what you like!’

    Anecdotally, part of my job is to deal with complaints. Years ago, an FOS adjudication talked about the client’s ‘perception of advice’, which is something I took on board and use to this day in my investigations. In many cases, file notes, meeting records and so on have shown to me that it is arguable in some cases that clients probably thought thay were being advised, even if hard facts indicate this is not the case, e.g. signing an exectuion only agreement, but there being a quote and a brief suitbality letter. This is a simplification, but you get the idea. I would like to see a similar thought process applied to sites like MSE.

  15. How can ‘mass advice’ being implied above (e.g. go to a no-fees broker) be transparent given that there is no way of knowing who acts on it?

    In 2006, I remember the broadsheets pumping commercial property funds. More recently, BTL or whatever has done well recently.

    I had a ‘passerby’ drop in a few weeks ago asking me to invest a sum of money in a Vanguard Tracker because it was on the front page of a Sunday financial supplement.

    Whilst IFAs etc grapple will increasing regulation costs, administration and compliance there are significant amounts of cash changing hands on a ‘non advised’ basis – conveniently sidestepping all regulatory protection on the premise no advice is being given. In my view, advice in the the mind of the recipient. If my memory serves me right … the FCA line is, if it looks like advice and it feels like advice, then it probably is advice.

    Ergo, don’t go to a fee based mortgage broker is a recommendation and therefore advice.

    As Paul Lewis says, no one ‘owns’ the advice label – however that works both ways – don’t give advice but unless you’re willing to hold yourself out as an adviser.

  16. when guidance comes from an IFA its advice
    when guidance comes from the lewis’s ( Paul & Martin) its guidance !!!!

  17. “In my job we publish to 50 million users a month and you can check whatever we’ve written back in time, I have no deniability.”… so if my business should publish our suitability letters ( without client names) do we have to be regulated

    • We record all our client meetings so if I bleep out their names and mask their voices, can I stop being regulated by the FCA and be regulated by the public instead (whop already regulate me by choosing to use or not use my services at the agreed price)

  18. The more I think about it, the more the article irks me. I dislike the reference to ‘horrendous advice’ given by ‘someone hidden in a back office’ with little in the way of record or evidence vs ‘the Lewis method’ of no deniability and a public record. The implication appears to be that IFAs can and will engineer records to support their advice in the event of a complaint. This is bad-mouthing the industry and goes against what we all try to achieve in terms of TCF and moral behaviour. My personal experiences at my firm are nothing but positive. We work extremely hard to be transparent and reasonable and we make every effort to ensure that our clients get a fair deal.

    Just as he implies that we could turn around and say, ‘I never said that’, surely one could argue that his case will always be, ‘I didn’t advise you’. Why does he think this is a superior defence?

    To say that his public scruity is just as tight as regulatory scrutiny is utter nonsense. What could happen to him? A citizen’s arrest?

  19. Man in the pub versus regulated adviser. One can and one cannot get away with it!

    This whole dilemma about what you can and cannot say or do is not Martin’s fault, and it most certainly isn’t the fault of the regulated advisers either, so whose is it?

    If the advice is from an unregulated source then I believe that the FOS cannot investigate a claim and I cannot recollect the FCA pursuing such an action as yet (unless criminal/fraudulent).

    Right old mash-up!

  20. Steve D

    One word:


    Sold as an unregulated product to SIPP investors by unregulated advisers with the help of a few greedy stupid regulated advisers and their lies – but we are still having to pay higher FSCS fees based on successful claims.

    Could not the same thing happen with pension freedom!

    To be clear I am not saying that Martin Lewis or MSE is involved in any scams!

    What I am saying is that where a person using this website and acting on the information later finds that information to be wrong, then where does that person claim compensation? Should not risk warnings be clearer and should Martin be claiming that he is an Expert in pensions and investments or in fact any financial advice product, if he himself does not hold the qualifications. Simply, claiming to be a Journalist or a consumer champion is not good enough, when you are profiting from the ADVICE to those consumers but leaving the liability to those who are authorised.

    I stand to be corrected if of course he does hold at least a diploma level 4 in Pensions and Investments and holds the right authorisation.

    Is that not what regulation should be doing – Protecting the Consumer!

  21. Mr Lewis actively encourages the people on his website to complain and get compensation. Why can’t he stand up and be counted like us all.

  22. I have a nice little business with nice clients. I haven’t lost any to Mr Lewis, so we are not competing in the same pond. What is annoying is how much more I have to pay in regulation and the hoops I have to jump through when working in my back room… but with everything I say and do to a client being recorded simply so I can prove my intent and that of my client. and the link between the guidance/advice I have given.
    Mr Lewis is lucky to have found a loophole he can earn millions on. If a regulated adviser from a large firm said what he says publicly, the firms compliance officer would be all over him.
    I used to joke that I should just sit on a bard stool and pontificate to clients in return for drinks and free food and lodging in the pub as they’d not have to take any notice of me if they didn’t want to. “The Pub adviser” could replace the Pub singer!

  23. “In my job we publish to 50 million users a month and you can check whatever we’ve written back in time, I have no deniability.”

    Yes Mr Lewis, but neither do you have any accountability. Should someone take issue with what is on the MSE website does Mr Lewis contact all the people who acted on that information to point out that it may not be correct?

    What happens if he gets it wrong? I’m thinking Icelandic banks and the fantastic rates they were offering.

  24. If he and the company is going to make money from the banks etc by recommending products (which it does by the millions of £’s) then it should be regulated. Also using PPI reclaim advice to divert people to his website is downright back door marketing plus the advice he has given out over the years has been awful and making PPI reclaiming out to be far easier than it is has let lots of people down. There needs to be some accountability…

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