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Unqualified staff could open huge can of worms

I hope the idea of putting everything into a decision tree does not catch on.

I have been trying to draw up my own decision tree for deciding the

subjects which I write about in my Money Marketing column. Unfortunately,

most of the branches seem to end up in a box marked: Why not go down the

pub?

Come to think of it, that might be the box which is missing from much of

the FSA documentation. How many individuals plodding through all this

material will end up doing something slightly more enjoyable than deciding

on their pension.

I am glad that the (very impressive) consumer research by the FSA suggests

that those questioned had greater sticking power than I would have thought.

But the research goes on to show that, even when they have safely and

correctly navigated the decision trees, a significant proportion of

consumers will want to talk to a financial adviser before they actually do

anything.

Which brings me to the proposal that unqualified staff can be enlisted in

helping investors through the decision trees. This seems to me to open up a

potentially huge can of worms.

We are not just talking about call centres and pre-determined scripts. The

proposal also encompasses face-to-face interviews. Where there is personal

contact, the chance that an investor will believing that he or she has been

given generic rather than specific advice is surely negligible.

Personal contact implies personal advice. No amount of declarations of the

status of any advice given will have any lasting impact. The client will

feel advised and that is all there is to it. Advice where the investor is

offered every (generic) assistance short of (specific) help is going to end

in future recrimination.

The decision tree had better carry a health warning as categoric and stark

as that on a packet of cigarettes otherwise there will be future argument

and that does not mix well with a 1 per cent stakeholder world.

The investor is invited to look at pensions as though they can be put in a

self-contained financial box. The reality is that individuals have many

different investment needs. There can be no assumption that the first of

those needs to be satisfied must be that of a pension. What about life

cover for someone with a young family? What about PHI?

Decision trees do not lend themselves to that sort of prioritisation. They

are more suited pushing a product, not meeting a financial need. And I

(like the FSA?) have ignored the effects of the minimum income guarantee on

the grounds that it is “too difficult”.

Decision trees are an experiment in as complex an area as pensions. Those

who have devised and who will supervise them are going to have to listen to

those using the trees and adopt, adapt and improve them.

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