"Mr Lewis' intentions are obviously admirable [...]But with that scale comes great responsibility and he needs to be careful not to give inaccurate or overly generalised advice"
MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis found himself in the spotlight recently, having made a number of comments about insurance products which industry professionals found concerning - including dismissing the need for life insurance unless consumers had a dependent under the age of 21 - on his show, The Martin Lewis Money Show.
Advisers were concerned that, with an audience of between 3 and 4 million viewers, Lewis holds considerable sway on the opinion of consumers and, therefore, their financial decisions - without any requirement to be regulated. The Guardian referred to Lewis in 2019 as 'the most trusted man in Britain', suggesting considerable weight was given to his public comments.
In 2015, similar calls for Lewis and other popular financial experts in the media to be regulated were dismissed by Lewis, arguing that the scrutiny of his considerable audience was 'just as tight' as regulatory scrutiny.
As the issue rears its head once again, we asked advisers their thoughts...
Yes - Lewis should have advice permissions
Some advisers felt strongly that Lewis - and other commentators like him - should have advice permissions, particularly given the size of his potential audience.
Elliot Benson, owner and mortgage broker at Sett Mortgages, said:
"He absolutely should have advice permissions. He is on a public platform and millions of people base financial decisions on what he comes out with. I speak to countless clients whose first sentence when I give them advice starts with 'Well, Martin Lewis said...'."
"Mortgage protection - especially life insurance and income protection - is so important and can be the difference between someone losing their home or being able to keep their property in the worst of circumstances. if a client is given incorrect advice prior to making their own informed decision, the outcome can be horrendous in the worst case."
Luke Thompson, director at PAB Wealth Management, agreed, adding:
"As someone who works in the industry, it can be incredibly frustrating listening to Martin Lewis especially when everything he tells people seems to be heavily caveated.
"Because he has such a large audience people take on board what he is saying and thinks what he says should apply to them without any knowledge on criteria.
"I really do feel that either he needs to have permissions in place moving forwards or that a full disclaimer should be on screen at all times when he is offering his 'advice'."
Sabrina Hall, mortgage & protection adviser at Kind Financial Services, noted that the regulatory burden on financial advisers making similar statements would be much higher, adding:
"As an adviser I couldn't say such broad sweeping statements like these without getting a firm slap on the wrists from the FCA. If I wrote in my suitability report 'I've recommended this because all people your age need it', I would be pulled by the FCA for giving unsuitable advice. Journalists need to be held to the same standard as we are when discussing these matters. Financial advice should be very specific to an individual's needs and some of the statements he's made recently have stepped over into the realm of financial advice, in my opinion."
No - permissions aren't needed (as long as advice isn't specific)
Others argued that, as long as Lewis's advice was not specific to a particular person, advice permissions were not needed.
Samuel Mather-Holgate, IFA at Mather and Murray Financial, said:
"No, because he shouldn’t be giving personalised advice. He needs to be careful, though. I expect the FCA to be taking a close look to see if he’s crossed any lines that might misinform the public."
Scott Taylor-Barr, financial adviser at Carl Summers Financial Services, added that Lewis merely needed to be wary of making sweeping statements, noting:
"There is no need for a journalist to be regulated, as long as they take care in their opinion pieces and reports on where their guidance and information could stray into advice. Telling people to "regularly review their mortgage" or "speak to your insurer about support if you are struggling with the cost of living" is no issue and a great help to many who may end up paying over the odds, or canceling valuable insurance cover when they don't need to.
"However, once they start to say 'everyone should lock into a 10-year fixed rate' or 'people don't need life cover if...' then I'd say they've potentially overstepped a mark, as each individual's circumstances are unique to them and without understanding their situation, you could be telling them exactly the wrong thing."
A fine line
Almost all advisers we spoke to agreed that the scale of advice was the problem, with director and adviser of House and Holiday Home Mortgages Joe Stallard concluding:
"The reason that there's such a large and active mortgage advisor community in this country is that advice really can't be given at scale; everyone has their own particular circumstances that require careful and considered guidance."
"Mr Lewis' intentions are obviously admirable and he should be applauded forbuilding a platform where he has the ability to help millions of people."
"But with that scale comes great responsibility and he needs to be careful not to give inaccurate or overly generalised advice. He must follow the FCA guidance like the rest of us or he could do more harm than good."