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MAS campaign perpetuates free advice myth

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

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Comments

There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I am sure some one from the FSA reads some of the comments on issues raised and on occasions replies probably as anonymous.

    I would love to know the stats that justify the existence and cost of the MAS site. Excluding the industry that may have some awareness of the site and the tables section, what are the consumer visit numbers. Do you know? I have consistently asked clients and acquaintances if they know what the MAS is ( full name used). To date 100% have no idea. I believe it exists like many of the FSA initiatives bereft of consumer benefit relative to cost.

    These 3 Google searches.

    “free independent financial advice”
    “help with finances”
    “Financial Guidance”

    Had no reference to MAS on the first page !!

    Please FSA post a response .

  2. Phil Billingham 17th August 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I think a ‘hear hear’ will suffice

    Well said. Now, what can we do about it…..?

  3. Whilst I agree with the overall conclusion that the £43M should be spent promoting trusted advisers, the analogies used (fly tipping and mechanic) are rather silly.

    Would any IFA have anything bad to say about MAS if it was funded by others and not IFAs? No…

  4. One of the small lenders I deal with has apparently had their latest edict from the FSA…

    It is no longer sufficient simply to check up if an IFA/Broker is on the FSA register…. the lender is expected to now carry out due diligence on them before allowing them to submit intermediary business to them..

    They will need to peruse PI documents and an evidence of qualifications.

    Just another to get over guys while the banks and dual pricing roam free.

    Just when is someone going to make the FSA account for just how much they are responsible for decimating an industry. When they came to power in 1997 there were about 400,000 mortgage brokers & IFAs…. now the figure would surely struggle to reach 40,000 and by 2013 will be even smaller no doubt.

    Now the MAS to undermine the industry….

    It’s a disgraces & someone needs to wake up and smell the roses!

  5. “a consumer campaign to teach people what to do to find a trusted adviser”

    Now there’s an idea. The problem is to decide what is meant by a “trusted adviser”. In my view many who would qualify in an RDR sense should be taken out and shot. I doubt if the industry/profession could argee on a list without dividing into hostile camps.

    We all “know” that we are honest and that it is others who are crooked. Personally I don’t balme the public for being somewhat cynical.

    One thing is for sure, RDR, TCF and MAS won’t make a jot of difference aprt from amking life far more expensive for the consumer.

  6. Heaven knows I’m no fan of the FSA and, as far as I’m aware, neither a consultation or any sort of Cost:Benefit Analysis was undertaken before the decision was taken to start spending money on the MAS. Maybe £43.7m was deemed to be too trivial a sum to warrant such inconvenient formalities. But, as Tom says, the name MAS is misleading, because it doesn’t offer advice. It should have been called the MGS, whose booklets were/are very good and which do only what they claim to, nothing more and nothing less.

    That having said, a fairly quick scout round the MAS site gets you to a Useful Links page http://yourmoney.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/help/useful_links.html#financial_planning. This, as may be seen, includes links (quite a way down the page) to (amongst many others) the IFP, Findanadviser.org (PFS and CII) and unbiased.co.uk (IFA’s).

    The question remains, though ~ will we ever know if our £43.7m has been money well spent in terms of achieving the claimed objectives of the MAS?

  7. Seems like IFA’s are ‘running scared’. Like all businesses that have enjoyed a ‘protected’ environment with a somewhat opaque transparency to their clients. When the time comes for change there is an outcry. IFA businesses should undertake some effective consumer marketing to communicate the benefits they can deliver for clients, the results they can achieve and the costs involved. A friendly face not an industry steeped in the past.

  8. @Julian Stevens: Any introduction to web design will tell you that no-one in the history of the Internet has ever clicked or will ever click a link that comes in the middle of a list format.

    If you want to drive people to an external website you need to use well-chosen embedded links, a la Wikipedia.

    In terms of promoting IFAs, they may as well delete that page and return the few ha’pennies saved in bandwidth to us.

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