Simplifying Consumer Guidance

The process of simplification and clarification within financial services is a positive one. ‘Slimming down’ and streamlining how consumers access information about their personal finances is the only sensible way forwards. There is no room whatsoever in our sector for opaque communication. After all, savers and investors are entitled to information that is clear, transparent and accessible.

That the Government announced on 9 October that it will simplify the way in which consumer’s access information about their management of money is good news. Some of us would say it was inevitable.

However, how will it work in practice? The Treasury has consulted industry as to how best to shape the way it provides consumer guidance in the future. It will merge three existing services into one single public body which will deal with all money matters including pensions and debt. The Treasury believes this will make it easier for consumers to access help with their finances. This sounds straightforward: so far, so good.

The Pensions Advisory Service, Pension Wise and Money Advice Service brands are likely to disappear. They were hardly household names and consumers are unlikely to notice.

What we want is for consumers to notice new efficiencies within financial services. This will benefit the reputation of our sector as research currently indicates that consumers are both skeptical and confused about their options. We want these same people to notice a decluttering and a new straightforwardness in the provision of information relating to their personal finances.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) provides consumers with independent, confidential and impartial advice on all manner of issues. CAB has earned public trust and goodwill and rightly so: it is non-partial, free and known to exist for the good of all consumers. We have a lot to learn from CAB and in our world of financial services, a single body which removes duplication of service and which specialises solely in the provision of information about personal finance is appealing. The brand name will be all-important: ideally, a catch-all for financial services and a name which appeals to all of us.

Simon Kirby, Economic Secretary to the Treasury has said that the government “wants to give ordinary people more control over their lives, and that includes their financial security. We strongly believe that creating one public guidance body is the best way of making it as easy as possible for people to access the help they need to get their financial questions answered."

The sentiment behind the new, streamlined service is spot on. How the funding for it works in practise is now the big question.

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