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Why we challenged Stanley Gibbons’ stamp investment advert

Are you interested in investing in stamps? Would an offer of ‘guaranteed’ 100% protection of your investment convince you to part with the cash? We were fearful it would so issued a complaint to the ASA.

Adverts for investments are often littered with words such as ‘secure’, ‘guaranteed’ and ‘capital protected’, but can you actually rely on these promises?

When we saw an advert for the Stanley Gibbons  ‘Capital Protected Growth Plan’, which claimed to be ‘designed to protect your investment 100% while at the same time allowing unlimited growth’, alarm bells rang at Which? headquarters.

The advert was marketing an investment in stamps which it said offered a ‘100 year history of strong and steady increases’. The company claimed that ‘our confidence in its performance allows us to offer you a full capital security guarantee – we will guarantee the sum you choose to invest with us, whatever happens to the value of your portfolio.’

Risk of losing money

We put in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The investment was unregulated and not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. If the company was unable to fulfil its promise then consumers could be at risk of losing money.

Stanley Gibbons said that the guarantee was secured by a ‘legal contract’ but was not ‘guaranteed or underwritten by any third party’.

The ASA considered that the small print in the advert meant that ‘it would be clear to readers that any investment with Stanley Gibbons was underwritten by them alone and was dependent upon their continuing solvency.’

ASA dismiss guarantees complaint

As a result, the ASA did not uphold part of our complaint. However, it did say that Stanley Gibbons should not claim that their stamps had a 100-year history of strong and steady increases.

We’re disappointed with the ASA decision. We think a ‘100%’ guarantee will be understood by most to mean just that.

Investors typically have the additional security of third party guarantees and the back-up of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. We’re not convinced consumers will always consider the solvency risk of the provider. Even if they do, it will be impossible for consumers to always be able to tell the good from the bad.

Bold promises

While nothing is truly 100% guaranteed, consumers are more at risk without the additional protection of a third-party guarantee.

Where this is the case, consumers should be told clearly and we do not think statements in the small print go far enough.

Stanley Gibbons still have documents on their website which claim that the product offers a ‘cast iron guarantee for your capital’ and that ‘you certainly can’t lose a penny’ – claims which we’re concerned may still mislead some investors, particularly as the investments are not guaranteed or underwritten by any third party.

A ‘guaranteed’ investment is a big promise and sounds like a sure win. Do you feel confident being able to judge for yourself whether a company was able to meet any ‘guarantee’ and feel happy to part with your cash?

Comments
Member

If this is such a sure-fire winner of an investment opportunity, why are the shareholders, directors and executives of Stanley Gibbons not keeping it to themselves? I think in this case their need for some new capital exceeds my desire for an illiquid portfolio of postage stamps [which might or might not be worth the paper they are printed on]. Premium Bonds have the same guarantee and [a] it is credible, [b] it is secured by HMTreasury, [c] they are easily cashed, and [d] they are fun. Reading between the perforations I can see an investment in stamps coming unstuck.

Member

Given the specialist nature of this investment I agree with the ASA.
Investors and the public need to take some responsibility themselves to check out and understand any investment they buy.

One could argue that firms shouldnt be allowed to offer guarantees on their products unless they arrange 3rd party insurance in case they go into administration, or offer gift vouchers which again become worthless if the shop goes into administration.

Member

Fair point rarrar. Most product warranties are unsecured. Many extended guarantees are provided by a third party [e.g Domestic & General] which presumably charges the retailer a fee in respect of each guarantee sold; after admin costs this money is presumably kept on deposit in order to meet liabilities and claims. But how do we know whether it is underwritten securely?
While I agree that the Stanley Gibbons investment is specialist, fairly sophisticated, and probably only of interest to a certain clientele, the marketing of it is clearly aiming at a broad appeal. People will clutch at anything that claims to be risk free, especially when every other opportunity is either deficient or dodgy – and that is not just gullibility for which we might think there should be no protection, it is an outcome from deliberate marketing enticement. Whereas I think the ASA adjudication was technically correct, I also firmly believe there should be better regulation and consumer protection in this area and that Which? is right to press for it. A domestic appliance warranty is not in the same league as a serious financial investment and all advertising or promotion should be entirely truthful and completely ethical. If what Stanley Gibbons aremeans is “because of our history and reputation, and the track record of stamps as an investment, we don’t need to, and do not intend to, underwrite our guarantee”, why don’t they just say so in so many words? Their underlying asset might well be specie but it’s not absolutely immune from loss or depreciation.

Member

A little story – Years ago I collected stamps enthusiastically and seriously – I had a wide-ranging collection in an old yellowing leather bound stamp book – and took it to the Stanley Gibbons shop in London. I was offered £200 (possibly over £2000 now) which to me at the time was very rewarding – so I agreed the sale. I handed over the book – the assistant removed all the stamps and gave them back – It was just the book that was worth £200! – Apparently it was a very rare 19th century publication in superb condition! I gave up collecting stamps :).

Member

I have been collecting stamps for nigh on 50 years, my response to Stanley Gibbons offer: Total hogwash!
Especially as the offer is not guaranteed, I wonder how the ASA justify their decision, that a company is promising an iron clad guarantee with no means of enforcing it
Value increase & decrease along with the market, new discoveries of more previously rare stamps, and the willingness of investors and just what is currently in vogue.

As an old hand I know my round the philatelic world, and know how fingers can be burnt. I think it is wrong for an old reputable company such as Stanley Gibbons to make these claims, clearly tempting amateurs to invest with them on the basis of unkeepable promises, unless they agree to purchase back everyone’s portfolio when the market drops, but then that would make them insolvent!
To all, my stamp portfolio has gone down as well as up during the past few decades.

This makes distressing reading:
The ASA considered that the small print in the advert meant that ‘it would be clear to readers that any investment with Stanley Gibbons was underwritten by them alone and was dependent upon their continuing solvency.’

After all the discourse we have had about small print vs clarity? What is the point of the ASA if not to protect us from the hidden small print clauses?
I wonder which wonder kid thought this one up

Member
Frustrated & Disappointed says:
3 June 2014

In case anyone is still reading this article they may be interested to know that we invested in an SG guaranteed investment which matured nearly two months ago but they haven’t yet paid us the maturity proceeds. We’ve filled in all the forms, provided the proof of ID they wanted and chased by e-mail and phone but still nothing. We just get fobbed-off that they are speaking with their accounts department to get the payment made as soon as possible. Perhaps they really have given guarantees that they can’t fulfil. With no protection from the FCA we’re considering taking legal action if they don’t pay up soon. Very disappointed that they aren’t living up to the grand reputation they place so much stock by and obviously won’t be dealing with SG again in the future.

Member
Frustrated & Disappointed says:
15 June 2014

Made another call to SG and got through to the top person in their investment division. Apologised for delay in returning our funds and promised they would be paid in the next few days. To her credit, the money was in our bank account three days later. So all sorted now.

Member
Keith Williams says:
25 July 2014

I used to work for Stanley Gibbons Auctions (1967-72) so it was before a major price crash.
History is about to repeat itself.
There are very few new collectors coming into the market, and these prices are being hyped to sell to people who do not understand. This hobby will go the same was as matchbox labels, bus tickets and cigarette cards. The crash WILL come, but l cannot tell you when