Can't afford financial, legal and medical advice?

A file picture of a couple receiving financial advice.
A file picture of a couple receiving financial advice.
Image: 123RF/Rawpixel

FNB's upgrade of its Easy account includes a number of "free" - but limited - services which you may find useful.

The newly launched Easy Smart account offers you "free" financial, legal and medical advice. However, don't expect these services to replace a personal financial planner, a lawyer or legal policy, or medical scheme membership. But they could "stand in the gap" if you are finding that these products or services are unaffordable, the bank says.

Pieter Woodhatch, the chief executive of FNB Easy sub-segment, says the benefits added to the Easy Smart account are an attempt by the bank to live up to its pay-off line: "How can we help you?"

Like the standard Easy account, the new account is aimed at customers earning between R1,000 and R7,000 a month, but it comes at a cost of R65 a month. The standard Easy account attracts a monthly fee of R5.75 if you opt to pay fees on a pay-as-you-use basis, and R58 if you opt for a bundle of transactions that includes debit orders and cash withdrawals. These prices apply until July 1, when FNB's pricing changes.

Woodhatch says the free advice is rendered by an independent third-party service provider, ICAS, which will not share any of the customer's personal information with the bank.

Customers can also be assured that ICAS is not going to pass on to the bank leads to sell you funeral cover, life cover, or any other financial services, he says. ICAS offers employee wellness and support services to companies that don't have the capacity to provide such services.

"We realised the importance of information to help customers make informed decisions. We know that anxiety is the cause of many health issues, and saw an opportunity to take some of the anxiety out of customers' lives by empowering them with access to information, and making it free," Woodhatch says.

Customers seeking medical advice relating to anything from a life-threatening medical situation to managing a chronic condition, a maternity issue or an everyday medical condition, can have their questions answered by a team of nurses, throughout the day.

Customers with a legal problem - be it related to pension, a labour matter or anything in between - will have access to telephonic assistance from attorneys and paralegals during work hours on week days. And those seeking basic financial advice regarding anything from debt management to financial planning, can get help from qualified financial advisers.

Woodhatch says customer queries are initially fielded by ICAS's financial coaches and, if necessary, referred to a specialist, depending on the question.

ICAS has advisers who specialise in various aspects of financial planning, from investments to retirement. He says some are certified financial planners, which is one of the highest qualifications that a financial adviser can obtain.

Naresh Tulsie, the ombud for financial services providers, says that as the product provider, the bank cannot outsource its obligations in terms of the Financial Advisory and Intermediaries Service (FAIS) Act and the act's code of conduct.

"If their agent or intermediary falls short in respect of the advice given, the bank can be held liable accordingly."

The general code of conduct that forms part of the FAIS Act obliges financial advisers to advise you on products that are appropriate to your risk profile and your financial needs.

All calls, which are to one toll-free number (0800-611- 269), are recorded by ICAS, and there is no limit to the number of phone calls a customer can make.

Customers can also use a cellphone to dial *134*905# to request a call back.

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