Take the example of “It’s for brand new customers only.” This catchline is hard to miss if you watch TV. For those of you who do not recognise it, it comes from a series of TV ads to promote Nationwide Building Society. These are designed to illustrate why the mutual is different from competitors because it does not restrict the best deals to new customers.
The bank manager in the ad to promote Nationwide’s mortgage products and advice refuses to even hand over a pen to the existing customer to use because, as you will probably have guessed, It is for “brand new customers only”.
Another ad in the Nationwide series shows the hypothetical – and rather annoying – bank manager comparing the tricks used to attract new savings customers with the techniques used by fishermen. He describes how people are tempted in by a “big, fat, juicy worm” of a savings rate, only for it to be replaced by a less competitive rate 12 months later. The point Nationwide is trying to get across is that it would never treat its customers in this manner.
But I am not singling out Nationwide, as it is not alone in knocking the quality of advice and products offered by rivals. NatWest, for example, takes a similar approach in encouraging people to sign up to a financial review.
One of its ads features somewhat smug bankers visiting a luxury health spa and talking of how they bamboozle customers. This is pitched as a parody of some organisations deliberately confusing people.
There are plenty more ads from this school of thought and IFA Promotion is disappointed that some organisations feel the need to attack competitors in this way.
In my opinion, the industry shoots itself in the foot by being so critical of certain forms of financial advice and advisers in general.
Some people may be surprised at IFAP for defending the advice offered by banks and building societies when one of the effects of this type of advertising could be to encourage people to use IFAs rather than tied advisers. We, however, prefer to take a more positive approach to promotion.
IFAP has been promoting IFAs since 1989 and our long-running Unbiased.co.uk campaign has never slammed any types of distribution. Instead, we focus on telling people about the benefits of seeing an IFA. We are putting more than 575,000 people each year in touch with local IFAs. Those IFAs which offer specific services – such as a female adviser, a good website or incremental qualifications – do particularly well from our campaign.
In our view, all consumers should seek financial advice, enabling them to make informed decisions. Our message is that among different types of advice, there is a “gold standard” category offered by IFAs.
IFAP is not alone in working hard to raise industry standards. Other professional bodies are doing what they can and we should not underestimate what the FSA is trying to achieve through its treating customers fairly initiative.
Unfortunately, all these efforts are being undermined by cynical, high-profile TV ad campaigns – the ones I mentioned earlier are merely the tip of the iceberg – which present certain parts of the financial services industry as applying lower standards in giving advice.
I fail to understand the logic of creative agencies working in advertising which put such proposals to their corporate clients. How do they sell this concept to their clients? “I’ve come up with a great idea that really rubbishes the industry. Why don’t we put this on national TV?”
These campaigns are from highly influential companies and therefore have a hugely negative effect on the entire financial services sector. I would like to see these agencies come up with positive proposals for their clients to build up the industry rather than knock it down.
Although the singing and dancing Howard from the HBOS ads may irritate many people, he does not feel the need to insult other parts of the industry.
David Elms is chief executive of IFA Promotion/ Unbiased.co.uk