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Does MAS have to be so ‘crap’?

The Money Advice Service has – rightly – taken much criticism in recent days, most strikingly when Martin Lewis labelled their health check service as “crap”. The criticism is well summarised in a recent article in Money Marketing.

But MAS does not have to be crap. Take the 5-a-day campaign as an example. I am sure most readers will be aware of this campaign and its message.

The 5-a-day campaign was launched in 2003, and is still well remembered. MAS’ advertising campaign message is already forgotten. The 5-a-day campaign spent circa £1m per year in advertising from 2006-2009. MAS is reported to have an £11m marketing budget.

What then, relatively speaking, did 5-a-day get so right? My opinion: a simple, specific message. 

When its instigators first knocked heads, I suspect they identified a broad-ranging set of issues – too much fat in diets, not enough exercise, not enough vitamins…..the list no doubt went on. But, not only did they narrow it down to vitamins, they went so far as to specify a simple “goal” for every person to aspire to every day.

The goal is no doubt simplistic. I suspect some people need more vitamins, others fewer. Some may need to worry more about fat, others protein. But, by picking a simple, specific message, they were able to cut through the noise and get it heard. 

Contrast this with MAS’ messages, which range from how refreshing “free, independent, unbiased” advice is, through to how we have a savings gap. None of that will leave the average person inspired to make a major lifestyle change. 

The other benefit of a single, simple message is measurability. And, with measurability, comes accountability. Accountability is MAS’ biggest failing, stemming back to its peculiar funding model – an FSA levy on financial firms. Any other choice of funding model (charity, non-profit, government-funded) would have been more effective. But, when your funders have absolutely no say in the matter, accountability disappears. 

Until that changes, I fear a crap MAS is the best we can hope for.

Adam Price is the founder of VouchedFor.co.uk, which lets consumers find, rate and review IFAs.

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Comments

There are 12 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I think you’ll find the 5-a-day campaign was about fruit and veg and not vitamins.

    Maybe it wasn’t so successful after all!

    5-a-day is the exception that proves the rule; other than clunk-click every trip I cannot think of another government advertising campaign that hit the mark. That’s amazing considering I have a memory of 40 years+.

    MAS is crap, it’s health check is crap, it’s advertising is designed to wave two fingers at the people that fund it and it will always be crap because it is staffed by a group of self serving quangocrats that have never had to run a business and get paid so well that they will never need to be on the recieving end of the crap advice that it gives. It should be closed down now before any more of my money is wasted on this stupid, quango vanity project.

  2. Now come on Soren, don’t mess about and fudge the issue, say what you mean (lol)

    I agree, why are we funding this service and if “advice” is what the public needs, why should it be free, after all they have to pay for everything else, why should any form of advice service be free to the consumer.

    If I want “advice” on buying a car or a holiday, I go to the people who can most supply the best information, I don’t seek “advice” from unqualified button pressers having a jolly on our money.

    You would think that with so much criticism from the TSC, the industry in general, IFAs who fund this, someone in the government would take notice.

    Never happen, they would rather raise issues like slashing benefits for so called feckless workers (who they probably put out of work in the first place with the cuts in services)

    County’s gone to pot.

  3. MAS is really missing its target audience. The generation who are web savvy and seek advice online will find numerous websites offering better advice and options. To me the real difference with these ‘other sites’ is they give the public a focus and then direction – whether its a specific product to meet a need or the services of an IFA and face to face advice. Either way these sites are complimentary to the industry I feel.

    MAS should be working with the industry rather than against it as it appear now. Otherwise it will continue to fail

  4. The central message that MAS should be getting out to consumers is that financial matters are complex and whilst many believe themselves capable of reasoned action the truth is that for all but the most basic matters it is a jungle.

    MAS should be advising consumers that it is not a DIY situation and that they should look at taking advice from IFAs or other financial advisers (now that RDR has further mussied the waters).

    It should also make the point that DIY means you are not covered by the FOS.

  5. You make some good points Ned.

    How ridiculous it would be to pay a quango to run a holiday advice service* or car advice service.

    We would never use them because we would instinctively know that the advice would be poor and biased towards whatever view the government of the day was taking.

    This is why no-one will trust the MAS. Did I mention that I also think it is ‘crap’ and a waste of everyones money?

    *interestingly Thomas Cook used to be state owned but sensibly was privatised – which should be what happens to the MAS. What? No-one wants to buy it’s shares???…

  6. Guys you are missing the point here. the MAS is a project dreamed up by the FSA so they could say with hand on heart that they had created a “service” designed to help the less well off. It doesnt matter to them if its crap, it doesnt work and is a futile way to go about things. They dont care about ends, they only care about means and the bigger the budget, the more successful it must be as its costs more to have. Its called public sector leadership mentality and unfortunately its here to stay. Regulation is the fastest growing sector and will continue to be so until MP’s are lobbied to get it changed to a leaner, more efficient and effective machine, which is led by people who realise that sometimes, just sometimes the advisoery profession is not always to blame when things go wrong.Only then will we see our costs start to come down and we can return to making a profit. Till then its baton down the hatches and try to survive

  7. @Soren Fair challenge! I do though know 5-a-day is about Fruit and Veg!

    Where I was going with the vitamin reference is that this was (I assume) an underlying goal, much like an underlying goal of MAS might be to increase consumers’ saving rate. My point was you can’t just communicate “it’s good to eat vitamins” or “it’s good to save”….you have to communicate something that is very clear, specific, inspiring and actionable e.g., eat 5 portions of fruit and veg each day

    That said, your comment does show my article about communicating a clear message, did not communicate a clear enough message! No job at MAS for me….!

  8. Actually Adam, if you can spend £1m – or more, to get a confused and useless message across, then there is a job for you at MAS.

  9. So we have an unqualified individual criticising a bunch of bureaucrats who mainly unqualified and reading from scripts.

    Part of the problem within financial services is unqualified staff and unqualified sources of information. I’m not a fan of MAS but before Martin Lewis criticises it maybe he should check his own level of qualification and STOP publishing information on pensions and investments etc, as he is not qualified to do so!

    If you’re listing FSA please do what you are paid for and stop organisations publishing information that they are not licensed to do so.

  10. Lewis was ferocious in his attack because he wants to frighten off the TSC from thinking for itself. Remember compare and contrast essays from English Lit O level? When the TSC looks at MAS’s website and compares it to moneysavingexpert Lewis does not want the TSC to go down the road of thinking both these websites give generic advice, one has links to providers and the other doesn’t. Why? If a website gives generic advice why does it need links to products? Did anyone see him on ITV this morning telling young people a trick to reduce their motor insurance premium is to add one or two responsible drivers “even if they are not going to use the car”. This “trick” could bring down the premium from £1,600 to £550 he said.

  11. Audrianna Parker 27th June 2012 at 7:05 am

    Hi,

    Recently I came across some great articles on your site. The other day, I was discussing ( http://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/regulation/does-mas-have-to-be-so-crap?/1053554.article) with my colleagues and they suggested I submit an article of my own. Your site is just perfect for what I have written! Would it be ok to submit the article? It is free of charge, of course!

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    Audrianna Parker

  12. Call me controversial but I wouldn’t go so far as to call the MAS service ‘crap’ – it has its part to play, it just doesn’t have the right people delivering its strategy. It could become a very effective introductory service to encourage the good people of great britain to seek out an IFA but it should not class itself as a financial advice service.
    As for Mr Lewis I could not care less about his opinion as all he has done is created a search engine to link consumer to provider and is in no way qualified to comment on MAS or any other aspect of financial services.

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