Best of the Best of the Best in Finance Awards (Scam)

“Congratulations! You have been selected to be included in XYZ Magazine’s 2016 Best of the Best of the Best in Finance awards, as our exclusive representative from your state.”

Fantastic! Another prestigious award win for the multi-award winning Informed Choice. I had best alert our on-call carpenter to build that planned East Wing extension for our trophy cabinet.

But wait just one marketing-driven minute. I smell something fishy.

The clues are all here. We didn’t submit an entry to these awards. We’ve never heard of XYZ Magazine before. And then the clincher; the menu of eye-watering fees to access a variety of ‘packages for your consideration’.

For the cheapskate, it’s a bargain £345 which buys you a simple listing in the magazine and online, a personalised bespoke crystal trophy, and a digital ‘top 50 advisors’ logo.

Big spenders can work their way all the way up to the ‘gold package’, a snip at £1,795. This buys you front page coverage, a 2-page feature in the magazine, two (two!) personalised bespoke crystal trophies, and much more.

I’ve had a few of these emails over the past few weeks and understand they are a pretty common phenomenon. The ‘best’ one to date said we had been selected as the UK’s Financial Services Firm of the Year 2016, and then promptly asked for £3,999 (reduced from £4,999) for ‘elite coverage’. Bargain.

I had a little moan about these on Twitter the other day, warning consumers that not all ‘awards’ are born equal. Whilst I would hope that most right thinking people can tell the difference between an award a firm buys and one awarded on merit, I’m not so sure.

Working within the wonderful world of retail financial services, we all know the difference between quality awards (Money Marketing Financial Services Awards, Personal Finance Society Awards, Money Management Financial Planner Awards, etc) and ‘UK’s Financial Services Firm of the Year 2016’. The former are awarded based on merit; they require a lot of hard work, detailed scrutiny of the application, impartial judging and no money changing hands. The latter are, quite frankly, a con.

But what about the man or woman in the street? Without knowledge of how these things work, all awards logos are born pretty much equal. Slap a pretty logo on your website and back it up with a magazine cover, plus a page or two of glowing write-up, and that £3,999 outlay for an elite package might be money well spent.

I’m not suggesting that financial services awards need regulating. We already have the fair, clear and not misleading rule for financial promotions, which arguably covers this issue.

Better consumer awareness of the factors to consider when looking for a trustworthy, established and competent financial services firm could help.

Consumers can and should be able to use award wins as one indicator of the suitability of an adviser. They are not the only factor to consider, of course, but without publicising the genuinely impartial awards which recognise excellence instead of willingness to pay, the system of awards risks becoming worthless.

There is a huge value in submitting your business to a robust awards judging process. The amount we learn each time from doing this, win or lose, is invaluable. Long may financial services awards continue. But not the dodgy ones.