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What does the FSA make of the MAS “free advice” advert?

“Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it’s free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

So says an infuriating new TV advert for the Government’s Money Advice Service (see below).

The service, paid for by an annual levy on the financial services industry which this year cost £43.7m, aims to offer unregulated information to consumers as a starting point to better understand their financial position.

The Government made a big mistake in branding the service as “advice”. If you are offering advice you must be prepared to take responsibility for the advice you offer yet, as a lengthy disclaimer on the MAS website makes clear, it takes no such responsibility.

This misuse of the word advice has created confusion at a time when the FSA says it is striving for an increased clarity of advice definitions through the retail distribution review.

The new MAS advertising campaign goes further in muddying the waters for consumers.

The words independent and unbiased have become synonymous with a distinct type of advice that IFAs are proud to offer their clients. The word “independent” can only be used by advisers who abide by specific regulatory rules which will become stricter post-2012. The organisation formerly known as IFA Promotions has for some time marketed itself to consumers under the Unbiased brand.

To suggest this advice is free is incorrect, the £43.7m levy is inevitably passed on to all consumers of financial products, and promotes a message which contradicts the FSA’s RDR aim of ensuring consumers are aware that advice should be valued and paid for.

The phrase “breath of fresh air” can easily be read as a dig at other forms of paid-for advice.

The MAS’s marketing campaign has also done it no favours with some IFAs who have been led to believe it will compete with the services they offer. A quick examination of the MAS website suggests the service is not looking to step on the toes of IFAs.

Creating more financially literate consumers is a worthy goal worth paying for, although the levy should also be funded by the taxpayer due to the potential positive social effects of the service. 

However, rather than educating, the current MAS advertising campaign clumsily guides consumers away from the truth that good advice is a valuable  commodity worth paying for.

You would hope and expect that FSA staff involved with the retail distribution review are pretty angry with the message being conveyed in this advert- a message completely at odds with the RDR objective of getting consumers to realise that advice comes at a price.

FSA staff are appearing at numerous RDR conferences and roadshows at the moment. Hopefully they will get asked their opinion about the advert and hopefully they will give an honest answer.

Paul McMillan is editor of Money Marketing- follow him on twitter here


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There are 22 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. What an absolute disgrace.

  2. So, what will FSA do about it?? No doubt there are hurried meetings taking place in Canary Wharf to decide how to justify their inactivity. Imagine what they woudl do to an IFA who put this advert on local TV. It’s a pity ‘government’ doesn’t look at the rules it has created before it goes ahead with this cynical and blatant abuse of power and influence. We have spent years cultivating some understanding of what independence and unbiased advice means for our clients only to see a crass advert undo all that hard work – no wonder Mr & Mrs Average are totally confused to the point of being uninterested in finances

  3. Dominic Thomas 13th June 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Well intentioned, poorly thought through, disasterously executed…if only Heineken ran financial services… ooops, forgot they had some recent issues with their own staff pension….

    (good article)

  4. I should imagine that elephants excrete the largest volume of manure of any land mammal, how apt!

  5. “Left hand / right hand?” comes to mind, with no surprise. Of course they can’t tell the great unwashed that the adverts are paid for by the FS industry; heaven forbid that people may start to make the connection that the regulator who oversaw the near collapse of the banking system is paid for by them through product charges, commissions, fees, bank account charges (there’ll be more of them post RDR), home insurance premiums etc… Some may wonder what on earth they are paying for, especially if they found out what Hector took home last year for presiding over it all…………….

  6. Maybe its the ‘MAS’ because ‘Money Information Service or ‘MIS’ could be confused with MISselling………

  7. Gosh !!

    Please remember :-

    “If you are In Regulation, stupidity is not a handicap.”

  8. So FSA staff are appearing at numerous RDR conferences and roadshows to give an honest answers are they?

    Paul have you ever been to one of these roadshows? Most IFAs are so frighened of the FSA that they have a attack of Stockholm syndrome wherein the IFA hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their FSA regulators.

    At a TCF Roadshow I asked an FSA official how 10,000 redundant advisers, 2- 3 million orphan clients, fees and 20% VAT fitted in with TCF?

    This was not a politically correct question to ask. Well to say that he looked like I’d just sunk a poleaxe into his skull would be an understatement and yes your right I did not get an answer as indeed we still don’t!

  9. Michael Fallas 13th June 2011 at 5:05 pm

    It seems pretty clear that the FSA, Government and Mr Hoban at the Treasury want IFA’s to become a limited resource of advice at least for the majority. Bearing in mind they have a vested interest in helping the banks re-build their capital and re-pay the Government this service looks like confusing people even further.

    One wonders if those who work for the MAS are responsible for the advice they give for the rest of their lives and are indeed regulated by the FSA.

    The FSA has created a mess but they never pay for their mistakes do they?

  10. Does this mean that a precedent has been set, That as long as we give the client a lengthy disclaimer ,(as on the MAS website that makes clear that it takes no responsibility for any advice it gives),we can also walk away from any advice we give. Seems fair.

  11. I have a feeling this is only the beginning…..

  12. Julian Stevens 13th June 2011 at 5:36 pm

    The fact that the FSA is apparently ” striving for an increased clarity of advice definitions through the retail distribution review” rather suggests a feebly disguised admission that axing polarisation was one of its biggest blunders yet, despite David Severn’s mendacious claims that polarisation was past its sell-by date. As I said then and will say again ~ polarisation never had a sell-by date. It’s always been the best way to structure the industry.

    How can the axing of polarisation have ever been driven by anything other than vested interests and political influence on the part of the banks, as opposed to a genuine belief that a depolarised FS industry would actually be an improved one?

    And why does undoing a foul-up like having axed polarisation need to be part of the RDR (of which we’re all heartily sick to death)?

    Gordon Bennett ~ you couldn’t make it up.

  13. I went on their web site; if I had given the “advice” it gave me I would have had at least a FOS complaint against me and I’d probably have had a regulatory visit.

  14. Agree with Simon re FSA roadshows.
    When asked about the effect of VAT on the cost of advice at a recent roadshow the FSA staff said that they were not there to answer such questions. End of.
    Someone also asked how much they were paid but that was a solid case of non disclosure.

  15. I thought if anyone gave financial advice who is not a regulated individual then they fell foul of the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000.

    I also thought it was a criminal activity!!!

    But what would I know??

  16. Sure it’s a misleading advert (in fact, I might even go as far as to say it’s bordering on implied defamation) but let’s keep a sense of perspective.

    I don’t subscribe to the theory that HM Government is trying to put IFAs out of business. The probable truth is more likely to be that they don’t care one way or another about us – and why should they? The survival (or not) of IFAs isn’t their business.

    One of the things I admire about IFAs generally is our resilience and adaptability. This isn’t the biggest threat we’ve ever faced (it isn’t even the biggest threat we are facing right now). Sure, some clients might be turned away from seeking proper advice but, to be brutally honest, the kind of person who is going to be ‘wowed’ by that ad probably isn’t the kind of person I’d be welcoming into my client bank any time soon. I’d put them about one step down the ‘financial evolutionary scale’ from someone who goes to their bank for advice.

    Let MAS (or whatever it will be called next week) do what it does, let it lie about what it does and let the consequences fall on the uninformed – and let IFAs do what we do best, deliver real ADVICE. Practical, useful and accountable.

    Smart, reasonable people will still know the value of advice – as they always have (hell, after a few years of MAS-ing their way to disaster and penury, there might even be a few more people joining them)

  17. Ivor,
    I’m impressed by your optimism but the FSA has spent its entire existance undermining the value IFAs by only ever emphaising and exaggerating the negative.
    Using an TV advertising budget IFAs can only dream of to further mislead and miseducate the public into thinking that good, unbiased independent advice is not only rare but offered by the government and free is irresponsible at best.
    Paul, a great article. What a shame the goons in government neither understand nor care.

  18. Pierre Coussey 14th June 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Having searched through the MAS site for over an hour to find something about the RDR and impact for consumers the nearest i got to a mention of proffesional financial advice was the following.

    “Paying for professional financial advice
    For details about mortgage or insurance advice see .

    There are three main ways of paying for investment advice.

    1.Fees – by paying the adviser a fee, either at an hourly rate or a set fee.
    2.Commission – by paying indirectly through commission, which is deducted by the product provider from the product(s) you invest in, from the return on the product(s) or from the interest you pay. As well as the initial commission charged when the product is taken out, there may also be annual commissions, known as trail commission.
    3.Fees and commission – by paying a combination of fees and commission.
    Not all advisers offer all three payment options. Make sure the adviser offers the payment option that you want. Ask the adviser to explain what you’re paying for, how much it will cost and how you will pay for it. If you want to pay by commission, ask your adviser how this will be calculated. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the payment arrangements before proceeding. If you’re getting investment advice, ask your adviser if the costs include a review of your investments from time to time or if you must pay for that service separately. ”

    No promotion of fees no promotion of proffessional advice, since we are paying a levy for this not great.
    Also can find no links to all the guides that as a professional adviser I can link to my site for consumer education.

  19. Mr Hippo Critical 15th June 2011 at 4:17 pm

    So my Advertising Approval team said I couldn’t use the phrase ‘free consultation’ because at some point far, far away I might be renumerated for a product that was taken up by the client. When I queried it, they explained it was due to FSA guidelines… Who within the FSA should I forward the guidelines to?

  20. Philip Spierling 15th June 2011 at 5:01 pm

    the advert says that the advice is free,not true ,it is being paid for by levys on us ,the financial advise community,,,also it says,money advise,again,cannot be true,as you must be authorised and regulated to give financial advise,,,maybe the advertising standards agency should take a look at this as it could be construed as a misleading advertisment,,,,just a thought

  21. 10 bonus points for first person to win a mis selling case against this service!

  22. Was there ANY discussion between the MAS asnd the FSAs Small Practitioners or Consumers Panel BEFORE the exact wording of the advert and the name of the MAS were established?
    The begining of teh advert is fine, but the emphasies on “FREE” and unbiased is not, nor is the name “Money ADVICE Service” appropriate, it shoudl have been MGS.

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