As the burden of planning for the future, particularly in the case of retirement, falls increasingly on individuals, the government is overhauling its own free financial guidance services. It was felt that putting them under one umbrella organisation would deliver a more streamlined service, making it easier for people to access information to help them make important decisions.
I thought it would be beneficial to run through the changes as they may be of interest to you or someone you know.
Three become one
At the start of 2019, the government merged three services - the Pensions Advisory Service, Pension Wise and the Money Advice Service – into one organisation, led by Chief Executive John Govett.
Initially named the rather cumbersome Single Financial Guidance Body (SFGB), it has been re-branded the Money and Pensions Service
, with the acronym MAPS, from the start of the new tax year. Like many government initiatives it remains work-in-progress, and for the time being, users can still access each service separately. The next step will be to integrate them into one website.
The intention is to shed the misleading ‘advice’ labels in response to criticism that they fail to distinguish between advice and guidance.
Building on existing guidance
The Money Advice Service
provides guides and tools to help keep your finances on track and plan ahead. The Pensions Advisory Service
has information, guidance and planning tools for occupational and personal pensions, including auto-enrolment. Meanwhile, Pension Wise
gives guidance on the options available under pension freedoms for those aged 50 plus with defined contribution schemes.
In addition, MAPS will offer signposts to external sources of help including: budgeting and saving, insurance, financial advice, bank accounts, avoiding fraudsters, planning for retirement, and debt solutions. The organisation will work closely with the government and the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) to protect consumers and increase awareness of issues such as scams and the limits to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
MAPS is developing a ‘national strategy’ to improve financial capability through education. Financial wellbeing is considered just as important as physical and mental health and, in the autumn, a 3-year business plan to boost financial awareness will be published. This will focus on children and young people, to help them prepare for the challenges of managing their own money.
Finally, the new body will also be responsible for providing the long-awaited pensions dashboard, which should deliver its first services later this year and will include the state pension.
Making the most of something for nothing
For savers and investors, MAPS is completely free since it is funded by a levy on the financial services industry and pension schemes and sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions. It will also engage with the Treasury, which is responsible for policy on financial capability and debt advice.
Against a backdrop of developments such as auto-enrolment and pensions freedoms, there has been a significant increase in people seeking financial guidance. The government appears committed to ensuring that we all have access to the information and guidance necessary to make effective financial choices.
Mr. Govett commented: ‘We are passionate about offering people easier access to the money and pensions information and guidance they need throughout their lifetimes. In short, we are here to help people make the most of their money and pensions.’
Other sources of guidance
If you want to make sure an investment proposition is genuine, check out the status of the provider on the Financial Conduct Authority
website. You can also find out which products are authorised and eligible for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, should a provider default.
MAPS doesn’t extend to the intricacies of personal taxation so for this matter, the HM Revenue & Customs website can take up the reins. It contains helpful guides on all aspects of the subject, including videos, to help with the Self-Assessment
The Department of Work and Pensions has recently launched a Mid-life MOT
service to enable people to take a rain-check some years before retirement to see if they are on track to meet their goals.
Willis Owen guidance with your investments
Guidance is an integral part of our services to customers. This includes comprehensive information on the products and services we offer, along with tools to help you plan your goals, as well as research and select investments. You will find answers to frequently asked questions in most areas of our website.
We have also introduced a series of educational pieces for new investors and are currently working on some more specialist guides, such as pension tax relief, to help with your investment journey.
Better safe than sorry
It makes sense to seek guidance from as many sources as possible and if your needs are more complex you may wish to consult a qualified professional such as an IFA, a solicitor, accountant or tax expert. Many people prefer word of mouth recommendations but services such as unbiased.co.uk
can help you find an expert in your area.
Clearly, it is early days for MAPS but with the promise of learning materials and helpful videos, I look forward to watching how the service evolves. In my view, it is certainly a step in the right direction and the more we can do to motivate the next generation of savers and investors the better.
Important Information: We do not give investment advice so you will need to decide if an investment is suitable for you. If you are unsure whether to invest, you should contact a financial adviser.