Damian Fantato 

Pushing buy lists into advice is not so simple

Damian Fantato

Damian Fantato

Immigration has been an issue that has vexed many countries in recent years.

Concerns about it have led to the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA, Britain's decision to leave the EU and has aided the surge of many populists in Europe.

The result, at least in this country, has been an extended national debate about borders – and one of the lessons seems to be that they are not as simple as many people think.

The same is also true of the borders that surround advice. Clearly, there is a very precise set of rules around what does and does not constitute advice in all its full, personal recommendation glory.

But one of the lessons from the unfolding Woodford debacle is that it is possible to get very close to advice, without strictly speaking crossing that border.

This is what many think Hargreaves Lansdown has done with its Wealth 50 buy list, which recommended investing in Neil Woodford's £3.7bn Equity Income fund until after it was suspended earlier this month (and therefore after it was too late for investors to actually take Hargreaves Lansdown up on that recommendation).

There are those who say buy lists are, for all intents and purposes, advice – with the underlying implication that these are the funds you should buy to secure your place among the wealthy.

But the problem with this argument is that there will always be forms of guidance that are just shy of being actual advice. To say advice should be expanded to cover buy lists risks supporting the thesis that advice should be an ever-expanding concept that will eventually engulf all of creation.

It is a simple solution to a complex problem, and these rarely work.

Advisers will benefit much more from advice being clearly and strictly defined, but investors would also benefit from increased transparency when it comes to how the guidance they receive is reached.

damian.fantato@ft.com