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MM Leader: MAS must stop describing its service as ‘advice’

The first annual review from the Money Advice Service has brought a number of problems with this service back into focus.

The most noticeable issues may be the cost of the service, at £86m in 2012/13 it is far from cheap. It must be remembered that what is being promoted as a free service is in fact paid for by the industry.

The fact that it only referred 0.3 per cent of inquiries on for full financial advice also raises the question of whether the service operates efficiently.

Of course, a large number of the enquiries MAS receives will relate to debt, credit cards, basic budgeting and other entry-level personal finance queries. But more advanced queries can never really be answered with generic information.

Queries referring to mortgages, investments, pensions, life insurance and even savings need to take into account personal circumstance before a suitable approach can be found, never mind tax planning or equity release.

But according to MAS, only 3,000 out of 1.1 million people needed to be passed on to receive further professional advive. Either the enquiries MAS is receiving are very basic indeed, the quality of the information it is providing is so good that people do not need further help or many people who could benefit from personal advice, not information, are not being encouraged to get it.

The job that the MAS does is an important one. Levels of financial literacy in the UK are generally poor and scandals such as PPI misselling are far less likely to happen if people have more than a basic grasp of finance.

However, the biggest issue for the MAS is its insistence that it provides advice.

Starting with the name of the organisation and continuing through its advertising and the annual report, it is determined to claim that it provides financial advice to UK consumers.

As anyone who has had any brushes with the FSA will attest, generic information is not advice and if a product provider or adviser claims it is they would be in serious trouble.

Not only is this approach misleading, it also risks damaging the perception of financial advice amongst consumers, particularly those who do not currently use an independent financial adviser. Why would anyone willingly pay for a service that they think they can get from free from a Government-initiated website?

The MAS does an important job and anything it can do to help people falling into debt or taking out inappropriate products should be applauded. Similarly, any efforts to raise the level of financial literacy should be welcomed but what it does not do, and what it should stop claiming to do, is provide advice.

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  1. The majority of people MAS has been helping are those unemployed and on benefits, living in disadvantaged areas – hardly IFA stuff. Hence why the low referalls to IFA’s. Not everyone wants advice/help around choosing products – if they did these customers are reffered to IFA’s. I agree advertising costs are a joke – what’s wrong with using local radio ? does there really need to be an expensive television advert? The CAB have done well without expensive marketing campaigns. The FSA, BOE and others are just run by jokers.

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