It is rare to see MPs, consumer groups, industry and trade bodies and journalists unite in the way they did last week to inflict such harsh criticism on the Money Advice Service.
In front of a Parliamentary committee scrutinising the service, serious concerns were raised about both the job the MAS has done so far and its future plans.
Conservative MP Mark Garnier spoke the feelings of many IFAs when he suggested “no one knows what the point of it is”.
A recurring theme during the evidence session was MAS’s failure to engage with the industry it is supposed to be working in tandem with. Many noted that this has recently changed, more specifically since the MPs announced their inquiry.
Whether this is a genuinely positive move or a bit of short-term firefighting to defend itself against MPs’ scrutiny we will have to wait to see.
Certainly, the MAS got off on the wrong foot with its inflammatory “breath of fresh air” TV adverts which overnight alienated an IFA industry the service was supposed to be working in conjunction with. We note that despite widespread criticism and anger over the ads, which send a strange message about the value of advice, given the FSA’s RDR work, they are still being aired.
If one of the main aims of MAS is to become a signposting service, offering basic guidance before sending the consumer off to interact with the financial services industry, then it needs to be working closely with that industry.
Judging by the evidence we heard last week, this has not been the case.
Another stinging attack came from Moneysavingexpert.com’s Martin Lewis, who attacked the service for its failure to engage consumers. He said he would be embarrassed to feature MAS material on his site.
MAS’s future plans drew criticism from both the Financial Services Consumer Panel and the Financial Services Practitioner Panel who both warned they lacked detail and clear accountability measures.
MAS chief executive Tony Hobman, in charge since its predecessor, the Consumer Financial Education Body, was formed in mid-2010, has plenty of questions to answer when he appears in front of MPs this week.
He will have to work hard to convince them that despite the huge changes already made to his original plans and the tidal wave of criticism from across the industry, he is still the right man for such an important job.