The Money Advice Service has scrapped its target to reach over 11 million people by 2016/17 in order to concentrate on changing consumers’ financial behaviour.
In February 2012, former MAS chief executive Tony Hobman set an ambitious growth target for the MAS to go from 1.3 million MAS users in 2011/12 to more than 11 million by 2016/17. Hobman, who received a £350,000 pay package, quit last July.
His successor, former Department of Work and Pensions director of private pensions Caroline Rookes, joined MAS in February.
In an interview with Money Marketing, Rookes says the MAS will now focus on the actions consumers take relating to their finances.
She says: “We have changed our approach in the business plan away from just setting a numerical target. It is important we achieve behavioural shifts – it is not just about being able to count up the number of people that have used the service.
”That is why we have gone towards more outcome-based measures around managing down debt, saving, saving for the long-term, protecting assets and protecting dependants. We have set targets in those areas.”
Rookes says the MAS is not simply aiming to drive traffic to its website but is keen to ensure people can access the advice and information they need, which may mean directing consumers wanting financial help to other organisations.
She says: “My view is it not helpful just to set a figure. The MAS is a very young organisation, and what we are seeing now is the service develop as it understands more about the sectors and customers it is dealing with.”
Rookes is acutely aware of the industry’s concerns around what the MAS is delivering for its £78.3m budget for 2013/14, with £43.8m for money advice and £34.5m for debt advice.
Financial Conduct Authority chairman John Griffith-Jones told the Treasury select committee last November he was having “robust” discussions with the MAS ahead of this year’s budget and that the MAS should undergo a value for money study.
Rookes says: “The industry is absolutely right to be concerned, as we all have to be concerned about value for money. The MAS has been set up to fulfil an important role. We are one of the very few sources of completely impartial advice, but what we have which is different to the other organisations around is that through our statutory objectives we have this leadership role across the sector which gives us a kind of authority.”
Rookes says the MAS will try to influence the way the financial services sector is working for consumers.
She adds: “I do understand the concerns of organisations about whether this is value for money, and whether the MAS is duplicating services that are already there. We have got to show this is not what we are doing, that we are working right across the board to help develop a kind of ‘financial capability’ sector which can deliver its services more efficiently and more effectively.”
Figures published by the MAS last week show over 2 million people used the service in the year to the end of March, up 62 per cent from 1.3 million users in 2011/12. MAS had an annual target of reaching 1.9 million users for 2012/13.
The number of face-to-face “advice” sessions has gone up 35 per cent over the last year from 74,000 to 100,000, while the number of users of MAS’ telephone service has dipped 4 per cent from 84,000 to 81,000. A total of 15,000 consumers used the MAS webchat service, which launched last year.