Leader: MAS has finally been read its last rites – so what next?

Natalie Holt, journalist with Money Marketing Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

After years of criticism, and almost £400m of advisers’ and other levy payers’ money, the death knell for the Money Advice Service has finally sounded.

Money Marketing has long been a challenger of MAS in a bid to drive accountability about how it spends the phenomenal sums of money it receives courtesy of the financial services industry.

At best, we have been accused by the organisation of holding grudges, and, at worst, pursuing a kind of vendetta or crusade against the service.

While no one can argue with the stated aim of improving financial capability, the execution has been poor from the outset.

The litany of its failures is endless: the use of the word “advice” in its branding (something the Treasury has only now admitted was a fatal mistake); the chief executive that earned £350,000; another chief executive who dared to question adviser ethics; the notorious “breath of fresh air” ad campaign; consumer research that showed a third of consumers did not remember using the  service; and the final slap in the face, the Government spurning MAS in having a meaningful role in the delivery of Pension Wise.

A lot of this happened early on in MAS’s existence, but the past ultimately proved too difficult to shake off.

Advisers are well versed in MAS’s sordid history. But I come back to the reason MAS was set up in the first place – improving financial capability to help consumers take control of their money.

As Moneysavingexpert founder Martin Lewis writes for us this week, MAS had just about turned a corner. It had started to identify a clearer role for itself that removed the duplication of other services, with a focus on boosting understanding around finance and debt.

So what next? In the Budget, the Government has set out plans to restructure the organisations behind guidance, and set up a single pensions guidance body for savers whenever they need it, rather than just at retirement.

The separate but related work on the Financial Advice Market Review has delivered a raft of proposals designed at boosting access to advice, but offers little in the way of concrete solutions.

Any new organisation needs to correct the failures of the past by having a clear direction from  the very beginning. A MAS successor that works better with advisers and actively signposts to advice would not go amiss either.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing. Follow her on Twitter: @Natalie_Holt_MM