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Mel Kenny: Watch out for sales tactics in post-‘expert’ era

There is a dangerous lack of curiosity for what experts have to say these days, and a preference for what everyone else does or thinks on social media.

It was with a raise of an eyebrow I read last month that Unbiased has withdrawn its Bluebook directory due to a decline in journalists and advisers using the service.

For many years it had provided a highly regarded voluntary source of informed and expert comment that indirectly promoted the value of taking advice.

Its closure was explained as a sign of the times with experts now being so readily accessible via other means, such as the various social media platforms available.

But it is unlikely to be just that. There appears to be a marked lack of curiosity and enthusiasm for what “experts” have to say these days and a preference for what everyone else does or thinks on social media.

It is the most convenient way of answering the question: what do most people do? The harbour of safety in numbers without hearing what experts might possibly be coercing readers to think.

Even where the respect remains, experts in financial services are hamstrung by regulation and restricted in what they can say. Meanwhile, prolific personal finance commentators like Paul Lewis, whose remarks are not regulated, can give a more candid, steering opinion that can leave you on tenterhooks. It is also in an engaging format, which could get the endorphins racing if your own comment was good enough to warrant a reply.

Elsewhere, the distrust deepens as much more content gets offered by investment houses looking to spend their lonely marketing budget. With the recent restrictions on how intermediaries can be won over, money appears to be increasingly spent on peddling sales messages through hard up newspapers who cannot but welcome the windfall.

The danger is that while the advent of 24-hour news saw the last economic downturn droned out all day and night like a bluebottle in your ear, causing panic and poor decision making, the huge groundswell social media can cause could have an even more devastating effect in the future.

This self-perpetuating fear could accentuate a downturn more than ever before and cause savers and investors to make the biggest and most irrational mistakes ever made.

But perhaps it will go full circle in the aftermath of a new “crisis”, with the voice of reason and calm of informed comment again being sought.

Mel Kenny is a chartered financial planner at Radcliffe & Newlands

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