Forgive me for handing over my column to you this week, but your responses to my comment last Saturday about financial advice deserves a wider audience. To remind you, I asked whether anyone could find trustworthy financial advice these days. The question was raised on the back of the scandal of HSBC mis-selling dodgy investment bonds to pensioners through its care fees advice subsidiary, NHFA.
To deal with NHFA first, Sarah Dean wrote in support of the firm. "We found them invaluable in 2001 when the care plan they recommended for my father and the investments for my mother did the job very well," Sarah says, suggesting that the rot only set in once the bank because involved. "The quality of the support dropped once HSBC took over," she reports.
Vaughan Clarke calls for an investigation into the way banks sell financial products to the elderly. "My mother was 87 when my father died and living in a home, both factors indicating she had a short life-expectancy, yet two banks recommended her to invest in products with an upfront 7 per cent fee."
That cash would have been taken straight out of her savings. If she had £300,000, for instance, she would have instantly been £21,000 worse off if she had taken either bank's advice. "I would like an investigation of the purpose of the banks' compliance procedures," Vaughan says. "They look like the work of the devil."
Another reader, who asked to remain anonymous, reported his personal experience of poor advice from a bank. "When I was 57 I took out a 10-year mortgage for £80,000, with repayments calculated on my then salary. The question of when I intended to retire was never raised.
"But when I went back a couple of years later to see the same bank adviser and ask some questions about the mortgage, she pointed out that the mortgage term extended well beyond the usual retirement age and asked: 'Who sold you this?' When I replied: 'You did', the subject was quickly changed!"
Other readers responded by trying to answer my question about where to find decent financial advice. David Culver says experience has taught him to make up his own mind rather than trusting others. "Advice from commission-remunerated intermediaries was invariable worthless, while fee-charging experts, while offering better advice, were coloured by self-interest."
His solution? Find out for yourself through newspapers, financial magazines, books and the internet. "I have made mistakes, but that's the price I'm prepared to pay, rather than live in a fool's paradise and blame someone else when things go wrong," says David.
Meanwhile John Cocker says he's avoided deep financial pitfalls by following three bits of simple advice from his dad. (1) When spending, understand what it does to your balance. (2) Always live to your means, so if you save what you can from day one, you never miss it. (3) When buying a house, only borrow up to three times your salary.
"It's homespun and traditional but never more pertinent," John says. "It's a pity that banks have persuaded people that these rules can be broken and an even bigger shame that many have chosen to follow banks' poor advice."
I also had a lot of feedback from independent financial advisers. One pointed out: "The regulator simply cannot physically supervise hundreds of thousands of individuals and many millions of transactions. But the firms can make sure that what they are doing is acceptable to society as a whole rather than concentrating on the bottom line and building bonuses."
Another IFA reported: "I have been an independent adviser for many years, have hundreds of clients and have never had one complaint. Why? It makes good long-term business sense to do the job ethically and properly in the first place."
Another pointed our the role of journalists: "What is needed is better financial education, and journalists have a key role in delivering this." It's hard to argue with that as we do have a responsibility to readers. I hope we meet that at times.
Finally, reader Jonathan Dumbell reports on his positive experience with payday loans. "I have used the Moneyshop several times in the last year, because I was changing career, studying and working part-time," he says. "Even though I own my house outright, my pay of just over £8,000 didn't cover my bills, and so my bank wasn't interested in helping me in any way at all."
He says the experience was good. "But only because I made an absolute point of repaying the amount immediately on my pay day and never borrowed more than £100. I hope never to use them again but, as with all credit, if used with care they can be helpful."