Money Advice Service pair Gerard Lemos and Tony Hobman made the wise decision not to strongly contest most of the recent criticisms of the service when they appeared before MPs last week. Although they refuted any suggestion its website tools were “crap”, they acknowledged the MAS needed to significantly improve in many areas.
MPs on the Treasury sub-committee conducting the MAS inquiry had previously heard a barrage of complaints from across the industry, including consumer groups, trade bodies and journalists.
FSA chairman Adair Turner was far from brimming with praise when he appeared before MPs. Turner admitted chief executive Hobman’s pay had been set too high and suggested MAS’s oversight needed to improve. It is unlikely either statement would have been required if the FSA was happy with its work.
Chairman Gerard Lemos told MPs we would be seeing a “very different MAS” in the coming months and pointed out Hobman had taken a cut in his remuneration.
Writing in this week’s Money Marketing, Lemos says the MAS is looking to complement, rather than compete with, IFAs, journalists and charities.
To do this, MAS must work more closely with these groups. It needs to built up solid links with the likes of Aifa, the Institute of Financial Planning, the Personal Finance Society and Unbiased.co.uk. You are never going to be a successful signposting service to advisers until you really understand what is going on in the sector. Joining forces to work on an annual protection awareness day could be a good start.
Another positive move would be to scrap or amend its controversial “breath of fresh air” TV adverts which have angered advisers and conflict with the FSA’s RDR aim of ensuring consumers understand financial advice has a value.
Many MAS criticisms flow from the original decision to brand the service as advice rather than information. Anyone offering advice should be prepared to take responsibility for it yet, as a disclaimer on its website makes clear, MAS does not. A rebrand may add to industry costs but would also offer consumers a more honest picture of where the service sits in relation to other “advice” options.
Finally there is no adequate reason why MAS has yet to come under the Freedom of Information Act and it is worrying to hear the Government has no plans to inject some much needed transparency to the service.