Good news: financial advice is to be probed by the Government after April's pension freedoms led to criticism of charges. The Treasury's Financial Advice Market Review will examine the so-called "advice gap", which has left millions unable to afford the help they need.
The economic secretary to the Treasury, Harriett Baldwin, said the review would "explore what can be done to make sure consumers can access high-quality and affordable advice". The results, she said, will be published before next year's Budget.
I don't know about you, but I find it terribly difficult to know where to turn for decent financial advice. Don't get me wrong, I know plenty of really good and trustworthy advisers, but I can't afford them. To be honest I haven't ever earned enough to build up a decent nest-egg, and the paltry amount I do have would largely disappear in adviser fees.
But I would still like to be able to talk about pension planning, mortgages, life and protection cover, and other financial issues to an expert. Without that, I'm concerned that whatever decisions I take may prove to be the wrong ones.
I'm clearly not the only one in this position. There's a huge advice gap that has left millions who could do with some professional help unable to afford it.
One partial solution would be for employers to do more, especially as the pension auto-enrolment programme rolls out and will eventually leave all companies expected to provide retirement money for their workers.
As part of that, it makes sense to provide decent financial advice at the same time – so that people understand why they're saving, what the financial benefits are, and what rules affect the way in which they can use their savings.
Millions have been spent on the Money Advice Service, which is failing to deliver anything other than guidance to people. The same is largely true of the Government's Pension Wise initiative.
While guidance can be useful, it's inadequate in many cases and will almost certainly leave many people making important financial decisions without really understanding the full implication of their actions.
Of course, this isn't just about helping people to save properly for their retirement years, but ensuring that their finances can cope with the pressures of life – whether that's buying a home, losing a job or starting a business, for instance.
For that reason, financial education is key – and something that should start properly in schools. Children should start their adult life with a clear understanding of financial planning and budgeting. That would help turn them into informed consumers who would be more aware of the benefits of regular financial check-ups and expert help.
The financial advice review is still months away from reporting, but there is a huge opportunity to ensure we end up with a helpful advice system for all – rather than one that is only really available to the wealthy.
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