Voiceover from TV advert: ’We now have MoneySense advisers in 1,000 branches. They’re not there to sell, but to give you free impartial financial guidance. NatWest. Helpful Banking.’
A Which? investigation has revealed that NatWest’s MoneySense service is more likely to offer NatWest products than deliver the impartial advice it promises.
Just four out of 20 MoneySense sessions attended by Which? researchers provided the impartial information advertised, without any attempt either at or after the meeting to interest the customer in NatWest products. Meanwhile, there were six visits in which the adviser spoke exclusively about NatWest products during the MoneySense session. In two of these visits there was no mention of shopping around. In the other ten visits, the researcher was passed onto a customer service adviser, or the MoneySense adviser ended the session and went on to speak exclusively about NatWest products.
Consumer champion Which? stresses that, when it works well, the provision of an impartial service - along the lines of MoneySense - is invaluable. Which? is calling on NatWest to revisit the marketing of MoneySense and compare it with what is actually happening in some branches, and advises consumers using the service to shop around before taking out any NatWest products following a MoneySense session.
The consumer champion also urges the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to use the evidence from this investigation to help develop its own Money Guidance service, currently being piloted in the North West.
Which? personal finance campaigns manager, Doug Taylor, says: “This would be an invaluable service if NatWest was always actually delivering on its promise of free, impartial financial guidance. However, it is being let down by the poor standard of at least some of the service being delivered. If schemes like this are really to benefit consumers, more must be done to ensure that advisers are properly trained to provide truly impartial financial guidance at a time when it is needed most.”
Which? sent undercover researchers into 20 branches of NatWest to speak to MoneySense advisers in March 2009 in 10 areas of England, Scotland and Wales. Visits were recorded and transcribed. All researchers used the same research scenario.
NatWest launched MoneySense in 1,000 branches nationwide in December 2008 under the banner ‘Free, impartial financial guidance to everyone’. MoneySense advisers trained by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service provide money guidance to NatWest customers and non-NatWest customers.
Examples of poor visits:
Adviser: ‘It’s free advice, impartial advice as well. I’m not here to sell you any products or services or anything like that at all.’
They then went on to talk about only NatWest products.
After talking about mainly NatWest products during the MoneySense session the adviser went on to say at the end of the visit. Adviser: ‘Yeah, feel free to pop back. Obviously, I can’t be independent like you’d maybe like me to be, and sit down, but then, that’s the way it goes. An independent financial advisor is maybe the best option for you because they can look at the whole market and say, you want this, you want this, you want this, but obviously they’re doing it for themselves somewhere, so.’