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Mas plans new regulated advice referral initiative

The Money Advice Service is working to more easily refer customers to financial advisers, its chief executive has told FTAdviser following a year of controversy for the organisation.

Speaking in the wake of the publication of its business plan for 2014/15, Caroline Rookes said that the service will look to recognise when someone needs professional financial advice and is working on ways to more smoothly hand the client over to an adviser.

Ms Rookes said: “We recognise that some people need more than just the generic advice that we can provide and that we can identify those who need professional advice and make [the handover] as easy as possible.

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“I have got a piece of work looking at how to make that transition to professional advice easier. I suspect it will be more than just a list of financial advisers. It could be any number of things. We are talking to the trade bodies and advisers and the aim is to come up with some proposals on how to make it easier.”

In a damning report last month, the Treasury Committee slammed Mas as being a waste of money as it duplicates services already provided and does not work closely enough with existing firms in the sector.

In response to reader concern over the use of the word “advice” in the Mas name, Ms Rookes said that although the regulator is extremely particular as to the wording advisers use, the name “Money Advice Service” effectively conveys what is on offer to consumers.

“To the public at large advice is just a word people understand to mean all sorts of things. They don’t distinguish between regulated advice regarding a specific product and more generic advice.”

The added that the Financial Ombudsman Services has told Mas “people will write to them complaining that the advice they have been given has misled them when in fact it wasn’t regulated advice.”

Mas is working with independent consumer finance consultant and Financial Services Consumer Panel member Teresa Fritz on the referrals project, Ms Rookes said.

Although she would reveal no more details at this moment, she said Ms Fritz is “working very closely” with various parts of the financial services industry including advice firms, product providers and consumer groups.

“Many people will almost certainly require a specialist service or need regulated advice. In line with our statutory objectives, in cases like this we will provide a clear sign-post, onwards to help people find the right specialist financial service or firm – often regulated, always reliable, and reputable.

“We can’t yet say which solution will deliver the best result, but recognise the parameters are wide.”

Ms Fritz said: “Most non-regulated advice services at some stage have to bridge the gap between ‘help and guidance’ and ‘regulated financial advice’, but it’s tricky to do it well.”