When I began life as a journalist on this paper more than a decade ago covering the investment patch, I was eager to beat our rivals to any stories. Hence, many of my stories opened with the line that a company was “set to” launch a product, even if it was weeks away.
In 1999, it was all about high-yield corporate bonds and I even managed to get a scoop on Scottish Widows recruiting New York-based MacKay Shields on to the front page (well, it was only a picture story using the New York skyline).
This all changed when I joined The Sunday Telegraph in 2000.
I quickly learned consumers want to be able to act or react immediately. There was little point writing about a product they could not go out and buy the following morning. It meant I would put exclusivity aside and write about a product I may have got wind of when it had been officially launched.
This is probably why many national newspapers have only flirted with the subject of the RDR. It is also why I agree with Russell Warwick of the Pru, who writes that it is pointless embarking on a consumer awareness exercise until the immediate run-up to D-Day.
But even when the time is right to raise awareness, how this is done is another matter.
The question of who promotes the change is causing some debate and I am not the only one who is sceptical whether the FSA can do a decent job. That said, the call for a £25m TV advertising campaign akin to the British Gas Tell Sid share privatisation campaign is fanciful – it would be money down the drain.
Ask Daniel Godfrey, formerly of the Association of Investment Trust Companies, on the merits of pumping millions into a TV ad campaign. The quest to get the masses to invest in investment trusts was an error of judgement and a huge failure.
Only recently, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme embarked on a £4m TV campaign, with the help of Wallace & Gromit-inspired characters. It failed to raise awareness of savings protection limits and was dropped.
When the time arrives to announce the RDR to the public, getting them interested in how they pay for financial advice is going to be a tough ask.
I have mentioned before that part of the problem with educating the public on financial matters is how to make the subject engaging. Besides talk of stockmarkets plunging and house prices rocketing, most people sigh and hold their heads in their hands when matters financial are raised.
Trying to make pensions interesting can be a thankless task, for instance. It is why many publications use case studies rather than a bespectacled, balding actuary who actually knows his pension onions to illustrate a retirement article.
Part of the problem the industry faces is that the RDR already fails the consumer litmus test because of what it is called. Retail distribution review tells the consumer nothing.
Journalists are already trying to circumnavigate the phrase by saying “new rules on financial advice” but we have yet to come up with a snappy two or three-worder that will stop the public in their tracks.
The FSA should ditch the RDR tag and launch a competition for a new name to give any awareness campaign a chance of getting the message across. In the meantime, feel free to offer any (serious) suggestions below.
Paul Farrow is personal finance editor of the Telegraph Media Group