CA calls for new advice network

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A NATIONAL network of impartial financial centres where quality, face-to-face advice can be given by a new type of adviser is being called for by the Consumers Association.

With levels of long-term savings at near record lows and funding access to permanent care for the elderly under question, the CA says the absence of such advice "has serious implications for consumers’ ability to make investment decisions".

It says that retail financial products and services are likely to play an increasingly important role as private pensions and insurance companies lobby to take over work formerly undertaken by the welfare state. A network of specialists would "underpin private sector advice" given by, for example, independent financial advisers.

CA’s research found that many savers perceive IFAs as too dependent on commission and unlikely to recommend certain products or courses of action. The Citizens Advice Bureau’s network of counsellors can only advise on debt-related issues rather than undertake generic financial advice.

A new type of adviser, termed a "general financial planner", is proposed. In addition to personal meetings, there would be support from a telephone advice line and internet access points.

If implemented, CA’s plan would see advisers working from locations such as post offices, charity sites (such as Age Concern) as well as workplaces, legal centres and local authority offices. Support for such locally-based advice is strong - 86 per cent according to CA. The research also suggests that such unbiased advice about saving would encourage 52 per cent of consumers to save more.

The idea is that planners would provide information and advice on financial products; information on rights, regulation and means of redress; conduct financial health checks and diagnose solutions, such as rescheduling debt and obtaining extra pension provision.

Financing such a network could be partly paid for by using fines levied by the Financial Services Authority.

Among those who have started to offer help is Simonne Gnessen, who describes herself as a "financial coach". Younger people in the early stages of their career are one of her targets. Her firm, Wise Monkey for Coaching, charges 45-60 per hour with the opportunity to spread payments. A former IFA, her focus is on financial education, rather than specific products.

Caroline Anstree at Even is a similar financial planner.

Contacts: www.financial-coaching.co.uk and www.even-advice.co.uk

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