Guide to Advice, a new online financial services directory for consumers, was launched last month aimed at helping signpost consumers to appropriate sources of advice.
The service, www.guidetoadvice.co.uk, provides consumers with tools on how to determine what type of financial advice they require and information on various financial services websites, offering search results based on the consumer’s needs.
Each website is individually appraised by a panel and given a score based on ease of use, content and the overall experience of the site, which the consumer can use to decide which firm to pursue with their financial enquiry or purchase.
Money Marketing columnist and Technology & Technical managing director Kim North and Nick Baker are two of the directors responsible for setting up the website.
Baker came up with the idea of an online consumer directory in the belief that more people will look to online propositions for financial advice as a result of the RDR.
“Some consumers are not going to pay for advice. They are going to start thinking about how they can do it themselves. If you go online and search for pensions, you get about two million results. Where do you start when you have got that much information in front of you?,” says Baker.
“I thought it would be a good idea if we had somewhere which sorted all of that information and helped people find something that was more relevant much more quickly.”
Baker approached North to assist in setting up the directory and she says she jumped at the chance.
“It was a really good idea because we go online for everything: our holidays, loans, credit cards,” says North. “But with financial services there is not much out there to help, particularly to guide consumers to all of the websites online where you can buy products or get financial advice.”
Baker and North certainly are no strangers to financial services, having both worked in the industry for more than 30 years. North started off in 1980 as an insurance broker for Royal Insurance. She moved on to set up her own financial advisory firm in 1997 called Pretty Financial.
She then adopted technical and compliance roles with firms such the British Property Federation and IFA Promotion before setting up the business Technology and Technical Ltd in 2002, where she continues to hold the managing director role.
Baker first entered the industry in 1978 after completing his professional qualifications to become a chartered insurer. He worked as an underwriter for a Canadian insurance businesses for five years before taking on a role within sales and marketing at Manufacturers Life. Over the years, Baker has helped start up 14 new businesses.
“The attraction is you get to do things fresh and new. Being in the industry a long time, there has always been ‘this is the way we do it’ and I have always wanted to challenge that, and do things from the customer point of view.”
Baker says there is much more focus on online propositions within financial services and that this will continue to grow and evolve as more firms are looking to use services such as Skype and collaborative web browsing as an alternative to face-to-face advice.
North says: “We need to capture the initiatives coming through, but we really think that the advice gap creates the need for somebody like Guide to Advice to guide people towards advisers because of increased usage of technology. Basically that is what the future needs to be.”
Baker adds: “What we’re doing is saying to firms, ‘here is a place to put your proposition’ because that is where consumers need some help to find it.”
The website currently consists of around 110 financial advice websites, with more to be added on an ongoing basis. There is no charge for businesses to feature on the website but firms can purchase their own enhanced directory page and website link for a fee. In order to appear on the site, firms need to be fully compliant and meet the minimum standard which the panel deem acceptable for consumers.
At present, firms are being rated by the panel at Guide to Advice. However, consumers are being encouraged to submit their own scores each time they use one of the firms.
North has no doubt that some providers will question the scorings they receive. “Some of them are not going to be happy when they see their ratings because some of the little firms are actually better at online propositions,” she says.
Although North and Baker believe online financial services are the way of the future, they still believe there is a market for traditional financial advice.
“There are certain IFA firms that are of a quality that they will not adapt all of these technology tricks to give advice without seeing people face to face because their client base is tolerant of £250 an hour plus VAT,” says North. “There is still space for those IFAs who have got proper quality advice that do it the traditional way.”
However, Baker says there is no denying that the advice market is changing, particularly the way consumers view financial advice.
“I think for the first time, certainly in the years we have been here, the power is now in the customer’s hands.
“They know what they have got to pay for the services. They can make informed decisions and Guide to Advice is there for those that want to do something differently to what they would have done before. What will be interesting to see is the pace of development and propositions that fill those gaps.
Lives: Islington, London
Education: Economics, Liverpool University
Career: 2011 – present; guide to Advice joint founder/director, 2002-present; Technology & Technical Limited founder/managing director, 1997-2002; Pretty Financial Limited founding director and IFA, 1994-2002; Pretty Technical Partnership founding consultancy partner, 1991-1994 City Financial Marketing technical and compliance manager; 1989-1991; Moorgate consultant; 1980-1989 Royal Insurance; manager
Likes: My two Westie dogs, netball, good wine
Dislikes: Arrogance, bigots, bad wine
Drives: Audi TT and specialised race bike
Book: Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington
Film: Sheltering Sky
Album: Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
Career ambition: To make a difference and continue to help consumers be financially secure
Life ambition: To be happy and healthy
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… England netball managing director
Born: Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Lives: Yaxley Cambridgeshire
Education: Alleynes boys grammar school, Stevenage. Qualified as Chartered Insurer 1982.
Career: 2011 to present; founder/director Guide to Advice, 2009 to present; founder/MD bakehouse communications, 2004 to 2009; joint founder/MD AdventisNMG, 1997 to 2004; director Egg Design & Marketing, 1995 to 1997; head of communications Barclays Funds, 1988 to 1995; head of Marketing Irish Life, 1984 to 1988; manager AEtna Life, 1983 to 1984; manager St. George Assurance, 1978 to 1983; underwriter Manulife
Likes: working with like-minded people who want to do better things for customers, Chelsea FC, garden and interior design
Dislikes: Corporate procrastination, meetings
Drives: BMW, Whyte 46 mountain bike and Boris bikes
Film: Love, Honour and Obey
Book: The one I plan to write at some stage
Album: My latest playlist a diverse collection of the newest jazz music
Career ambition: to work as long as I am enjoying it
Life ambition: to keep discovering new things
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… developing property in Asia or be a postman with a blue bike