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Soap plays equity card

As if the scrapping of polarisation was not enough, one of the

nation&#39s favour-ite TV soaps has decided to stick the boot into IFAs.

Coronation Street&#39s 13.5 million viewers have been watching the IFA

from hell Richard Hillman dominate story lines.

Commentators in the national press have not been slow to draw

connections – one wag asked if FSA chairman Howard Davies has been

watching too much Coronation Street. Senior industry figures,

however, have been voicing concerns over the impact the story line

could be having.

So far, the dodgy IFA has advised two of the street&#39s residents. He

persuaded Emily Bishop into taking out an equity release scheme when

she wanted to raise money for her nephew&#39s juice bar venture. But

unbeknown to her, Richard is a director of the company that bought

the house.

The other character, Audrey Roberts, was left money by her old friend

Alma and approached Richard for investment advice.

She has recently been gracing the nation&#39s television screens

complaining that her portfolio of investments has so far lost

£6,000 since being advised by Tricky Dicky.

But after a discussion with the street&#39s longest-serving character,

Ken Barlow, in which she accepted that he might have warned her that

investments could go down as well as up, her suspicions have been

temporarily allayed. Another local, Dougie, who has a building firm,

has agreed to go into business with Richard. Together, they plan to

convert a big detached house he inherited from a client – a Mrs

Lawson – into luxury flats.

However, Mrs Lawson&#39s disinherited son has been prowling the street,

vowing vengeance.

A spokesman for Granada, maker of Coronation Street, assures us that

the villainous Richard will be taking a prominent role in the soap&#39s

story lines for the next few months.

The industry might be surprised but Granada says every story line is

carefully researched and its researcher has spoken to two

FSA-regulated independent financial advisers.

Scottish Equitable pensions development director Stewart Ritchie is

an avid viewer of Coronation Street. He thinks the impact that a

story line such as this has should not be underestimated.

Attending the Ageing Population conference in Edinburgh last week, he

raised Coronation Street&#39s handling of the issue of equ-ity release.

The consensus was, he says, that equity release, which can be an

invaluable tool for the elderly, has been put back by two or three

years.

As a connoisseur of the programme, Ritchie notes that the Street has

dealt with financial services themes before. We have seen Curly Watts

get into detailed discussion about saving for retirement.

Alf Roberts, Audrey&#39s late husband, died minutes after New Year, thus

allowing the underwriters of his term insurance to avoid paying out.

Then, as he only had a single-life annuity without spouse

reversionary benefits, Audrey was left in financial hardship. Now her

investments are suffering from the poor performance of the

stockmarkets.

Prudential national mortgage manager John Malone is an ardent

supporter of equity release and is married to an equally ardent fan

of Coronation Street. He finds the story line implausible and

disappointing.

While he believes in the benefits of current equity release schemes,

he was not a fan of the home-income schemes that gave the sector such

a bad name in the 80s. He, too, believes consumers will be deterred

from considering equity-release schemes.

Syndaxi principal Robert Reid says while the portrayal of an IFA is

regrettable, given everything that has happened in recent years, IFAs

are an easy target.

He does, however, point out the effectiveness of soap story lines in

disseminating information, particularly in the area of public health.

If the Government is serious about its plans to get the message

across about saving, then planting a story line would be a good idea,

he says.

In some ways, IFAs have only themselves to blame, says Reid. “The IFA

roundel is the nearest many IFAs have got to marketing. The problem

is that with so many little eponymous companies, IFAs are never going

to make it into a brand.”

IFA Promotion chief executive David Elms denies that public

perception of IFAs is poor and points to the FSA&#39s own research

published in conjunction with CP121, recommending the end of

polarisation, which shows strong support for independent advice.

Aifa communications director Tracey Mullins, pointing to the same

research, says the programme is misguided. “Why choose to make the

character an IFA when the evidence shows the weight of complaints is

against tied agents? It will put consumers off and we do not need

this.”

Elms doubts whether Coronation Street&#39s representation of an IFA

could have any bearing on the debate raging on depolarisation. He

says the soap&#39s makers did not consult him.

IFAP itself has had national television coverage, having run

advertising campaigns on C4, Channel 5, ITV2, UK Style, UK Horizon

and CNBC.

An FSA spokeswoman would not be drawn on if it had communicated with

Coronation Street.

Any action taken by the regulator in the circumstances depicted would

depend on whether the adviser was regulated – it has powers to

intervene if not.

In the case of misselling, the consumer can be put in the position

they were in before. But full regulation of equity release awaits the

FSA taking over mortgage regulation.

A Coronation Street spokesman says: “Richard is a bad man,

irrespective of him being an IFA. We also have a doctor who has got

one of his patients pregnant, but we do not have the medical

profession up in arms.”

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