Think-tank calls for state-backed advice network

Mick McAteer 06

The government should create a national network of financial support to provide holistic guidance, according to the Financial Inclusion Centre.

In a paper published this week, the think-tank argues that the major obstacles preventing consumers accessing financial advisers are economic, rather than regulatory.

However, it proposes this could be bridged by a network offering guidance on issues including debts, credit cards and pensions and be backed by funding from taxpayers or the industry.

This is planned to be led by a telephone service, and could utilise existing resources such as Citizens Advice branches, the think tank says.

It would bring together pensions freedom guidance in a sole service with other financial support, going beyond existing information available from providers like the Money Advice Service.

The Financial Inclusion Centre says while the FCA should seek to reduce the burden of regulation on advisers, this is unlikely to be sufficient to make advice affordable.

The paper says: “We cannot identify any significant regulatory requirements which demand standards of behaviour over and above those that would be expected of a well-run firm that sought to understand the needs of its prospective customers, communicate fairly and openly, and provide a professional, quality service.”

The think-tank also plays down the risks that firms which meet current regulatory standards will be judged retrospectively.

It says: “We are not aware of any cases where regulators have reinterpreted and applied regulations retrospectively. Regulators have made it clear on a number of occasions that firms and advisers are judged by the standards of the time.

“Customers can’t afford to save, can’t afford to pay for advice, and the industry is just not efficient enough to extend access to under-served customers.”

As a result, the think tank argues the Treasury’s Financial Advice Market Review should look at developing a national network, backed by a cross-subsidy either from the public purse or the industry.

It says the network would provide advice, guidance and information to consumers who are not commercially viable to be served by for-profit organisations.