Lee Robertson: MAS should have been reformed, not abolished

Lee Robertson

Last week’s Budget contained some big news for advisers, not least the announcement of the demise of the Money Advice Service. After six controversy-filled but rather self-congratulatory years it appears MAS is to be retired by the Chancellor.

Those six years have seen runaway spending of over a third of a billion pounds, which beggars belief really. Then there was its masquerading under the advice label when only offering guidance, the infamous comments about adviser ethics and the following non-apologies wrapped in weasel words about misrepresentation and journalists quoting out of context.

So it is safe to say MAS will not be missed by the adviser community. A community that was never consulted on its creation or on the amount of the levy we had to stump up while being publicly insulted by them and having to see those appalling TV ads that made no mention of who was footing the bill. I guess in hindsight we are rather glad to have not been tainted by the sheer awfulness of it as a failing organisation.

But I wonder if it should have been saved. It was finally beginning to realise it was on borrowed time. It had been subject to a comprehensive but entirely necessary review that detailed lots of changes it was in the process of adopting. It had finally  – if rather belatedly – realised self-aggrandisement and vanity brand building on someone else’s bankroll was probably not the way forward.

“Do not take the easy, almost cowardly way out. Stop shutting things down just for convenience”

Instead of shutting it down, then reincarnating it in some form and letting it run on and on, reform under a carefully managed and measured timescale might have been the better, more cost-effective option.

This constant shutting down of quango-type organisations – usually after a costly review and report by some notable worthy picked from within exactly the same part of the establishment that sets up these bodies – costs a huge amount money.

The public or the industry concerned has no choice but to continually stump up their cash through taxes or levies (which are just taxes by another name) to fund organisation after organisation on some ridiculous governmental civil service led idea merry-go-round.

How about taking a leaf out of the book of those successful advisers who have built their business without external and never-ending funding? Learn something from those who were happily maligned by MAS by sticking with it, learning from mistakes, moving forward and making sure it is fit for purpose?

Do not just take the easy, almost cowardly way out. Stop shutting things down just for convenience or out of some civil service perceived sense of embarrassment. Instead, give the organisation some firm operating principles with measurable metrics, strict funding parameters and the time to get going and learn. Insist it is at least listening to its stakeholders and those already operating in the sector. Too much to ask? Probably. But I guess we can continue to live in hope.

Lee Robertson is chief executive of Investment Quorum