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Home > Opinion > Kevin O'Donnell

By Kevin O'Donnell | Published Aug 04, 2011

The instincts of self-preservation

IFAs are naturally defensive when anyone, however meekly, tries to step on their turf.

Many readers of Financial Adviser would have allowed themselves a wry grin with the news last week that the Advertising Standards Authority is to “investigate” claims by the FSA-inspired Money Advice Service that the service was offering “independent, unbiased and free advice.”

If you are an IFA and someone offers a similar service to yourself - at no apparent cost - then it has to be a concern. Agreed.

I am not so sure, however, that advisers should see this as a victory of any kind - indeed quite the opposite.

For a start, no one in their right mind could have confused a phone call to the MAS or checking the MAS website with professional, time-consuming, labour-intensive, face-to-face, personal and friendly finance advice?

According to the ASA, some 70 individuals complained about the MAS website and most appeared to be people working in financial services. Virtually no consumers complained.

Probably not surprising too given that most of the aims of the MAS are educational and laudable and I do not share the paranoia about its aims. The idea that a website and telephone service could undermine the comprehensive 360 degree service offered by most IFAs is just laughable.

If indeed this were true then it would suggest that what most IFAs are offering is clearly rubbish and valueless or the MAS really is the best thing since sliced bread and it will exterminate the IFA sector.

I do not think so.

There were concerns from some critics that the MAS was failing to “push” clients towards IFAs. This is an oversight but could someone not have suggested this to the MAS which, incidentally, does not appear to have closed the door to some kind of link or suggestion on where to go for further advice?

I wonder too, how many advisers have actually looked properly at the MAS website? It is full of useful info about how consumers can manage their money better and tools to work out what income they might need in retirement.

If I was a consumer accessing this site and I found out that I was looking at a retirement in penury or my rainy day was likely to be more of a tornado than a bit of light drizzle the first thing I would do is look for some decent advice and that would include talking to an IFA.

In this case, the site is more helpful to IFAs than it is negative. It may be far from perfect but advisers should see any educational initiative as a step forward, not the spawn of the devil.

Over the years I have been covering the retail finance sector I have noticed a knee-jerk response from advisers, particularly IFAs, when anything vaguely like a threat comes over the horizon.

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