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Rising from the debts

It appears that there may be good news at last, as many adults appear to have taken the summer months to clean up their saving and spending habits.

Bank of England figures show that recent borrowing has risen at its slowest pace for more than four years. There is less being spent on credit cards and debt is being paid off more quickly.

A gloomier figure is that the National Debt Line expects an increased number of 90,000 calls this year.

But remember that last year over 440,000 people contacted IFA Promotion to find an IFA, with this year’s numbers looking certain to pass the half-million level for the first time.

ABI figures show that life and pension sales rose by 9 per cent in the first half of this year, with the stronger brands reaping the benefits.

To service the demand for financial advice, we know that there are at least 40,000 UK registered individuals, authorised and regulated by the FSA to provide investment advice. This number is growing. This is all good news for both the consumer and the industry.

I believe that now is the time for new initiatives to be launched by providers of savings, investment, protection and pension products which really match the prevailing savings sentiment of the public. Clear communications alongside eye-catching marketing, promoting simple products that deliver what they promise, will result in increased sales as consumers put the brakes on debt.

We know that stakeholder investment products are not the ideal solution, as reflected in the new business figures. However, as a base for further development to encourage trust and a safer haven for hard-earned cash, they are a sound building block.

Marketing departments continue to push hard against their compliance teams to get offerings to the market. But in such a risk-adverse trading environment, compliance often has more influence within a company then the marketing function. The marketing of financial space needs to have more latitude to create campaigns attractive to the man on the street. Meeting customers’ needs is not as simple as it has been historically, as consumers become more sophisticated, lack trust and avoid complex products.

There is a head-in-the-sand approach being adopted by many levels of product manufacturers, as companies re-engineer themselves to meet the demands of the technology-led trading place and the new depolarised world. As companies reshape themselves to secure distribution and increase capital and their client base, mergers and acquisitions are playing a major part in making the investment industry more streamlined. The number of UK fund providers has dropped to 122, which is the lowest number for nearly 20 years.

Interestingly, to date, depolarisation has had little impact on consumer perceptions of financial services providers or the demand for financial advice. Its biggest impact and resource strain has been within the product providers. Now is the time to put the consumer first and not the needs of the compliance people, who are at times being not sufficiently consumer focused as they try to minimise all business risk.

Treating Customers Fairly is being talked about all over the press and across all levels of FSA-regulated companies. This is to be expected as it is the regulator’s overriding theme of the year. But until we see court cases establishing what “fair” is, we have little to solidly reshape our companies upon.

I have not even mentioned pension simplification – the biggest driver to seek independent financial advice that we have seen for many years – because the consumer’s primary need is at a more basic level than reviewing all pension provision made.

It is all about helping consumers take control of their finances in order for them to become financially independent in sickness and health.

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