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The truth about MAS, adviser ethics and its non-apology


Money Advice Service chief executive Caroline Rookes came under fire last week for raising concerns about the ethics of advisers during the Labour conference in Manchester.

In a discussion on the Budget pension reforms, some concerns were raised about whether there were enough regulated advisers to cope with the extra demand and whether they were of sufficient quality.

Rookes agreed that more regulated financial advice would be needed and the MAS would signpost retirees to advisers through its directory.

During this discussion, Rookes was asked a direct question by a member of the audience. He said:  “Caroline… if you say there is a need for more regulated financial advice then I guess you are not concerned about the number of advisers or their ethics?”

After more conversation, Rookes addressed the questioner directly. She said: “Am I concerned about the ethics of regulated advisers? Personally, yes. But I know they are regulated and nothing will change that. If anything the FCA will be tougher on them to ensure they are doing what they should.”

Advisers were furious. The comments were branded “bizarre and offensive” as many felt they tarred the entire industry with low ethical standards.

Syndaxi managing director Robert Reid and Page Russell director Tim Page also felt compelled to write about the matter.

The Personal Finance Society wrote to MAS insisting that Rookes choose her words carefully instead of making such sweeping comments about a profession that has worked hard to raise standards.

In response, Rookes has sought to repair the damage by reassuring adviser trade bodies such as Apfa that MAS is happy to work with them.

But she also gave people the false impression that the remarks were not accurate or a fair reflection of the discussion. This is wrong.

For example, in a letter to the PFS the MAS said: “We are very disappointed that Caroline’s comments during a fringe meeting at a Labour Party conference have been misrepresented as an attack on the ethics of advisers and would like to apologise if this has caused offence to advisers.”

Advisers can make their own mind up about whether the remarks are an attack on advisers or if that is a real apology, but the words are absolutely not “misrepresented”.

Nor are they misquoted, misreported or taken out of context. They are a fair and accurate report on an exchange during a debate on pensions and, of course, Money Marketing has the conversation recorded alongside extensive notes.

Nobody from the MAS has contacted Money Marketing to complain. To be crystal clear: MAS has explicitly told Money Marketing the article is fair, accurate and it has no problem with the reporting.

Today, the MAS sent Money Marketing a further statement where it backtracks on claiming the words were “misrepresented” and does not apologise.

It states: “Caroline did not intend to imply that advisers’ ethics are questionable. She was agreeing with another participant at the event that all advisers need to operate ethically to ensure the highest standards so that customers can consistently get the best outcome.

“We want to ensure that consumers get the best possible advice, including from regulated advisers where appropriate. That is why we are developing a new directory of retirement advisers so that customers can be signposted to high-quality regulated advice to meet their needs.”

Advisers have a right to know what the head of a major adviser and industry-funded organisation is saying about them in public forums, especially among influential politicians and senior industry figures.

Rookes clearly has concerns about adviser ethics. This is perfectly legitimate but she must elaborate and explain her concerns so they can be addressed.

Instead, because of the backlash, she has made a half-hearted retraction and tried to muddy the waters by claiming her words have been misrepresented.

This is wrong. It is an underhand and unjustifiable slur on the integrity of Money Marketing and myself as a journalist.

The advice profession is rightly furious about Rookes’ comments and she should take responsibility instead of trying to weasel out of her own words.

Samuel Dale is political reporter at Money Marketing – you can follow him on Twitter here


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There are 14 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Can we have a full transcript of the discussion, beginning with the question and ending with Rookes’ notorious “Personally, yes”? Samuel says “After more conversation, Rookes addressed the questioner directly”… I would like to know what that “more conversation” consisted of. I am still not totally convinced that in the context of the conversation, Rookes did not mean “I believe advisers should be ethical” rather than “I believe advisers are unethical”.

    I appreciate that articles have a word limit and the article was not the place for a full transcript of superfluous detail, but it would be much appreciated if that transcript could be posted here in the comments. Samuel says that MM has the conversation recorded, so surely there is no reason why we can’t see it.

  2. Slurs against advisers and poor press relations, how does MAS have any credibility in statements on ethics?

  3. My understanding of events concur Samuel’s

    I don’t want to inflame the issue and I have kept quiet about this matter but I found the comments outrageous.

    Not least because I personally have the scars on my back from spending over 20 years providing my clients with what I think was ethical and professional advice.

    Once again you have to feel sorry for clients – who can they trust? – Large institutions or advisers with the personal touch?

    I know what my answer would be

  4. So her “Ratner” moment has pee’d you off as much as us

    The thing that really gets me and what you have highlighted “Rookes clearly has concerns about adviser ethics. This is perfectly legitimate but she must elaborate and explain her concerns so they can be addressed”

    We know people hear what they want to hear and the statement she made needed clarifying and put in to context. And to make matters worse she has not sought to right the wrong, which leads me to presume she meant it as it came out, and is quite happy for people to believe we are all un-ethical, which to be fair does her position and MAS’s no harm at all !!

  5. @ Sascha Klauß

    ““Am I concerned about the ethics of regulated advisers? Personally, yes.”

    Whatever comes before or after that statement, I think it stands on its own. Sam has addressed the context within which it was said and as such It would be professional suicide for him to make out this to be more than it is.

    Furthermore, I may have missed something here but it was very specifically a personal comment from Ms Rookes (clue is in the wording) and so it should be her that gives any direct statements about it. Hiding behind MAS PR clumsily trying to spin their way out just makes things worse.

    ‘Untenable’ comes to mind…

  6. brian weatherley 3rd October 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Bah. Semantics !

  7. She made her personal concerns public by referring to them at this fringe meeting. As a public servant, she now has a duty to elaborate precisely what those concerns are. All regulated advisers have to be honest, open and act with integrity, so it would only be right for her to do the same. Failure to deliver a proper explanation now would represent a complete lack of respect on her part towards everyone involved in our profession, not just advisers. It is my opinion that she has already shown her complete contempt and she should be summarily dismissed immediately.

  8. Douglas Baillie 3rd October 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Isn’t it ironic that the Money ADVICE Service isn’t actually authorised to give regulated financial advice?

    if I described myself in these terms I am certain that I would have the FCA in here in no time if I wasn’t actually regulated.

  9. There has (rightly) been much industry talk of what Ms Rookes said. There has also (rightly) been a focus on requests for her to clarify her position and apologise to the industry. However, I am possibly more concerned about what the attendees at the meeting took Ms Rookes to mean. Were they left believing that the head of the MAS thinks that the ethics of regulated advisers are questionable and that the populace need protecting from us? It is possible that her comments have influenced policy makers in the Labour party who could form part of a future Government. What impact has her statement (or the interpretation of it) had on the attendees?

    It is all well and good asking her to clarify to the industry exactly what she meant and/or apologise, but it is even more important that it be clarified to all those who attended this meeting at the conference so that they are not left in any doubt. Even if an explanation or apology to the industry is forthcoming, is the same going to be communicated to all the attendees of the meeting to set the record straight? Surely there must also be a focus on a communication to the attendees at the meeting as well. After all, what good is an apology to us if the attendees are not privy to any backtracking, clarification or further comment? The damage would still have been done.

  10. At a fringe meeting in public and within earshot of Journalists she had absolutely no right whatsoever voicing her personal opinions.

    She would have had all reasonable expectation that in that situation any comments would have been taken as organisational and not truly personal.

    MAS have obvious contempt for the adviser community else they would not feel the need to exist. They exist purely because the powers that be have no confidence in the industry being responsible for consumer education.

    Let’s be honest these comments whilst they backfired were designed to pull yet more consumers to her pointless organisation rather than direct the public to the only people properly qualified to advise.

    Finally a big thumbs up to Samuel Dale for a very good initial exposure of the truth and then an even better follow up with this latest piece, thank you for sticking by the adviser community, they need a champion like you.

  11. What an utter fiasco.

  12. James 2:29 is spot on. I think of MAS as an amateurish unaccountable and incredibly expensive website; but those attending the meeting probably think that it is a Government formed (not funded or accountable, as we all know!!) institution. Therefore, when the head of that institution tars all financial advisers as unethical, and hints at heavier regulation, then those attending the meeting will form their opinions accordingly. They are not reading these articles, and realising that CR might/should lose her job over it. They think that she represents politicians and their opinion.
    Also agree with Chris 2:58 — well done Samuel Dale. I hope you don’t let up on her until she takes responsibility for what she said. MAS is now a disgrace, as well as a fiasco.

  13. When its findings are eventually published, the independent investigation into Clive Adamson’s latest gaffe, commissioned by the FCA, at an anticipated cost of £2.2m, will probably conclude that his remarks were “mis-represented”. The FCA will deflect any questions from the TSC by saying “it’s all in the report” (which, let us not forget, was independent and therefore scrupulously impartial), it’ll claim that “lessons have been learned”, the hoo-hah will die down like a squall that’s already disappeared over the horizon and life at Canary Wharf will carry on much the same as ever. Isn’t that the way these things generally work?

  14. E L Wisty (an only twin) 6th October 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you Samuel for such a forthright and honest response.

    As echoed above, this debacle has shown Ms Rookes and MAS for what they are, as well as the contempt in which they hold our profession.

    MAS had the opportunity to hold its errant CEO to account, and thus show that her comments were not illustrative of its own views on advisers. Sadly, it did not do so, and instead has merely inflamed the argument and has damaged its own standing.

    Hopefully, the pressure will be kept up on Ms Rookes and MAS, until they finally accept that they too can be held to account.

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