NatWest’s MoneySense campaign offering free and impartial advice in branches has been given the green light by the advertising watchdog, despite complaints from consumers.
MoneySense is advertised as an in-branch service there “not to sell but to give you free impartial, financial guidance”. However, its television advertisements provoked a large number of complaints from viewers - including IFAs and consumer watchdog Which? - who all accused the ad of being misleading.
The complaints challenged how impartial the service could really be and questioned whether NatWest was using it as a means to sell its own products.
Despite the concerns, the Advertising Standands Authority (ASA) has cleared the advert of being misleading. After an investigation, the watchdog said it was satisfied that the MoneySense service offered genuine impartial financial guidance.
Previously, a Which? investigation found that just four out of 20 MoneySense reviews provided true impartial information to its undercover researchers and did not attempt to offer NatWest products either during or after the meeting.
However, the ASA’s investigation was satisfied that MoneySense advisers are following correct procedures. It says that while customers are offered the NatWest products after the MoneySense session, advisers made it clear that the review had finished and the deals being promoted were not part of the “impartial advice” on offer.
In a statement, the ASA said: “The examples of impartial financial guidance given in the ad related to day-to-day budgeting on food and clothing, utilities and car insurance rather than investments.
"Provided the correct procedures were followed to ensure the MoneySense session was understood as being separate from any formal financial advice session that followed, we considered it was legitimate for NatWest to refer enquirers on to formal financial advice if they had asked for such advice during the guidance sessions.”
However, the move has been criticised by those who complained about the advert.
Louise Hanson, head of campaigns at Which?, says: "This is a disappointing judgement. I fail to see how the ASA can reconcile the kind of biased sales pitch our mystery shoppers got from MoneySense 'advisers' with the advertising of an 'impartial' service."
Cherryfind.co.uk - an online database of impartial financial and mortgage advicers - also complained about the advert.
Donna Hopton, director of the website, says: “The fact of the matter is that NatWest can only sell its own financial products and it has used the MoneySense campaign to get people into its branches to sell its own products not to provide impartial advice. It is a scandal that could and should have been avoided.”