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Rogues should be named and shamed

Do you ever ask your clients their star signs? No? Thought not. Well, for some reason last week I received a couple of pieces of research on how someone’s star sign affects their attitude to finance, including overseas investments.

According to Conti Financial Services, being an Aquarian I’m the most frugal star sign when it comes to buying a property abroad. Aquarians pay an average of 231,087 while Aries are willing to splash out 519,681. Since I’m always skint, it doesn’t surprise me that I’d go for the cheaper option.

But it’s nice to hear I’m also one of the most adventurous signs when it comes to buying abroad. Air signs are the most forward-thinking, gregarious and versatile, as well as a bit flighty. My top destination is apparently the Algarve. Better get some golf lessons booked.

Turning to more serious matters, a report issued by the Financial Services Authority revealed that a shocking two-thirds of firms do not have robust processes in place to provide customers with suitable mortgage advice. The big message is that firms must do better.

The regulator visited 252 firms and found “significant failings”, with several being referred to enforcement. Companies have no excuse for such failings. By now they should know what is required of them under statutory regulation and at least have the basics right.

And what are the networks doing if so many firms are getting it wrong? This sort of message does not do anything for consumer confidence. How can you blame people for opting for high street banks if they can’t trust brokers?

But until the FSA starts naming and shaming companies this dire situation will continue. It’s only natural that if firms feel they can get away with shoddy practices and still be allowed to do business they will do just that.

And the industry is set to come under more scrutiny this year with the regulator looking into mortgage exit fees, although this time it will be lenders not brokers that will face its wrath.

Meanwhile, as the buy-to-let sector seems to go from strength to strength and many clients probably still see property as a good way to save for their retirement, I received a rude reminder recently that it’s not an easy way to make a fast buck and should be seen as a long-term investment.

My tenant in my flat in London – nearly 500 miles from where I live – called me on January 2. How nice, I thought, she wants to wish me a happy new year. But no, she had just come back from holiday to find the boiler had packed up and she had no hot water and heating. For a week I’ve been trying to find a plumber in London who wants to do some work and does not refuse to answer his phone. Oh, the joys of buy-to-let.

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