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MARKET COMMENT
Stamp Out Dubious Advertising

By Cliff D'Arcy
January 9, 2003

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) is appealing to consumers to help it crack down on misleading or deceptive financial advertising.

Although the consumer watchdog already monitors companies' promotional literature, it believes that the public has a vital role to play in keeping advertisers on the straight and narrow. Under the current regulations, financial providers are not required to have their advertisements approved by the FSA before publishing.

Anna Bradley, FSA Consumer Director, comments: "Don't assume that we've already seen it - it's impossible for us to monitor all the adverts and marketing material that are produced. Your feedback will help us to protect you."

To help us spot the offending adverts, the FSA has produced a new guide to the rules covering financial adverts. Where an advertisement fails to stick to the rules, the FSA can force the offending firm to amend or withdraw it. Furthermore, the FSA can demand that the firm contact customers who have been misled and give them the opportunity to withdraw from products without charge. What's more, serious or persistent offenders could be "named and shamed", or even fined.

The FSA plans to publish half-yearly statistics on the consumer complaints received and actions taken.

This clampdown is both welcome and well timed as, in the run-up to the end of the tax year on April 5, there is always an upsurge in advertisements for investment products. The FSA will be paying particularly close attention to adverts for Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs), unit trusts, Open-Ended Investment Companies (OEICs) and endowments.

How to join the "Ad Police"

We think this is a positive proposal, assuming the public do their bit to make it work. When shopping around, keep an eye out for any financial advertising or marketing literature that fails to meet the "clear, fair and not misleading" standard. Watch out for misleading descriptions of a product's good and bad points; hidden features and small print; and confusing or misleading information.

You can complain by completing the online form at the FSA website, telephoning or writing, and the FSA will take swift and effective action to remedy the problem.

Visit the Financial Services Authority website, call 0845 606 1234 for advice, or write to:

'Misleading financial promotion'
Correspondence Unit
FSA
25 The North Colonnade
London E14 5HS