I had a fleeting thought the other day wondering if there was a single person employed at the FSA whose job it was to make the lives of their charges any easier.
There are virtually countless staff employed who busy themselves making our lives harder and more expensive, admittedly with the perfectly laudable aimof consumer protection but is anyone accountable for the well-being of the IFA community as a whole?
I have mentioned this analogy before but it is worth repeating. If you make tipping rubbish hugely difficult and expensive, the net result is fly-tipping. If you make the lives of advisers miserable, you will either get a shortage of supply or unethical behaviour – or both. I cannot help feeling that if you keep presenting ever bigger bills for regulation and an unending torrent of rules, there is only one party that ultimately ends up paying for it. And if you go around trying to do someone’s job for them, some of us are going to get a tad hacked off.
So, in the Money Advice Service, do we have a “service” that is free to the consumer? No, is the short answer. It is us advisers who pay for it, which ultimately means the consumer has to.
And is it independent? I guess it is but it is strangely uncom-fortable nevertheless.
Finally, does it offer advice? Again, no it does not. It provides information, pure and simple.
So, on two out of three counts, it is misinformation that is being given to the consumer at a time when they desperately need crystal-clear guidance.
The recent ads are worrying and wrong on almost every level. Now, before I go off on one of my tirades, I can, on the face of it, see why it was done.
A better-informed consumer has to be a good thing, right? Well, possibly not. Why, for example, does the automotive industry not embark upon a campaign of consumer awareness into how cars work? If one wants to find out, there is a wealth of information out there, most of it free on the net or paid for via a mechanic.
Instead of making our lives easier, the MAS campaign will perpetuate the myth that all advice is free and independent. As we all know, this is far from the truth and helps no one.
What else might the FSA do to help the consumer that does not tread on the toes and livelihoods of advisers up and down the land? That is easy – spend our £43.7m on a consumer campaign to teach people what to do to find a trusted adviser. It could be as easy as checking the FSA register, asking for references and searching via unbiased.co.uk.
I could be wrong here but I am not aware of any campaigns along these lines but if there were, it would fill me with pride and make me think what a good use of our money that was.
Tom Kean is director of Thameside Wealth Management