The Money and Pensions Service has arrived. And it’s here to fix all our money problems.
This, I fear, is the big expectation that is building in the early days of MAPS’ existence. It is the big expectation against which MAPS can only fail to deliver.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big supporter of MAPS.
If MAPS didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Our individual responsibility for our financial wellbeing has never been greater. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development judges our financial capability to be lower than the international average and for many, our inability to access and afford regulated financial advice is recognised and looks set to stay. Low levels of financial confidence are bad for the individual and bad for UK plc. MAPS has an important role to play in responding to these big financial challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I want MAPS to succeed.
Getting the ball rolling
And, since it officially launched in April, MAPS has had a good first 100 days. Its new brand has been well received; its 92-page listening document has clearly articulated the money challenges facing the UK; and its nationwide tour has ensured the concerns of all corners of the country have been heard. The early departure of CEO John Govett was unexpected, but these things happen. I believe there is strength and depth in the wider MAPS team.
MAPS’ first steps have been good, but the scale of the mountain it is now being expected to climb is concerning.
This mountain is defined by MAPS’ legal remit. Its remit includes a responsibility “to improve the ability of members of the public to make informed financial decisions”. Its functions include pensions guidance, money guidance, debt advice and consumer protection. But if we feel weaknesses in any of these areas – which I’m sure we will – I fear blame will be laid at the feet of MAPS.
And MAPS themselves have stated a vision of “a society where everyone makes the most of their money and pensions”. But if we are judged to be failing to make the most of our money and pensions – which I’m sure we will – again, I fear blame will be laid at the feet of MAPS.
I support MAPS’ remit, functions and vision. But I fear a world that holds it accountable for all our money woes.
Some complain about the funding of MAPS which comes from the taxpayer and a levy on the financial services industry. In 2019/20 this funding amounts to £126.8m. This is a lot of funding. But if MAPS is here to fix all our money problems, this funding equates to less than £2 per person in the UK.
Without focused allocation of this funding and a clear management of expectation, I fear money problems will persist and blame, again, will be laid at the feet of MAPS. To put this funding into some context, the Department for Education has an annual budget approaching £80bn. Few would argue that all our educational problems have been fixed.
And there are reported to be the equivalent of 336 people employed at MAPS. I’ve met a few, and they have all been professional, knowledgeable and keen to make a difference. These are good people, but if MAPS is here to fix the UK population’s money problems, each of these 336 good people will have to support the needs of some 200,000 members of the public to ensure the whole population is covered.
Without focused allocation of these skills and a clear management of expectation, I fear our money problems will persist and blame will, once again, be laid at the feet of MAPS. To put this population into some context, there are approaching 1.5 million people working in the NHS. Few would argue that all our health problems have been fixed.
If world peace is the responsibility of the United Nations, it will always be judged a failure. Likewise, if financial perfection is the responsibility of MAPS, it will always be judged a failure too.
MAPS is set to emerge with its strategic thinking later this year. Focus and management of expectation will be critical to its success, and to the perception of its success. Many things are important, and many things are urgent. But everything cannot be important and urgent from day one. I encourage MAPS to take its time to confidently set its priorities. And I encourage all its critics to give MAPS time to climb that mountain.