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How can we avoid debt advice anarchy?

Consumers are inundated with ‘experts’ giving financial advice, especially via the internet. And with more people than ever seeking support online, the trend is unlikely to go away soon.

While making finance more accessible and improving financial education is undoubtedly an important issue, I believe we must be more active in questioning who is qualified to give advice and how they are vetted. Only in this way can we truly help improve public understanding of debt and finance.

Online advice: risk and reward

YouGov research commissioned by general insurance provider Paymentshield recently revealed that 11% of people sought financial advice online in 2016. That compares to just 9% who went to a financial adviser or broker and 32% who simply use comparison sites.

Given that half of consumers may not seek advice at all, that might be seen as a positive thing. However, if we have no way of knowing exactly who is providing this online advice, or what their expertise and motives may be, there’s the risk of doing more harm than good.

Rules, regulations and responses

When it comes to debt and debt enforcement, the rules are now set in statute and transparent. As experts in our field, we have been giving the true facts on what we can and can't do for nearly three years. We’re also held accountable when we make mistakes.

In contrast, online commentators and bloggers can often publish advice as tips or opinion – avoiding similar scrutiny. This leads to the question of how we put the record straight or keep the balance when misleading information is being spread?

Let’s start with the realm over which we have most control: the debt industry. I believe that we, collectively, could be doing more to encourage information and fact-sharing from reliable, experienced sources.

Encouraging clarity and accountability

Digital publishing and online communication across multiple platforms, LinkedIn being a prime example, are excellent spaces to share ideas, challenge opinions and take part in broader debates. By being active and open with our advice and expertise, we can help our own business networks and the wider community to be better informed.

We can also work harder to make ourselves available to online writers who inadvertently offer imbalanced advice. Taking part in interviews, conferences and other events will help make genuine experts more visible and more accessible.

But we must also remain vigilant for truly damaging trends. The publication of more detailed guidelines for online advice, and even suitable regulation, may yet be necessary – and it’s our responsibility as experts in our field to keep an eye on this.

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