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Nic Cicutti: MAS needs more ‘kickings’

When I first came to England from Italy in the late 1960s, the last World War had barely ended a couple of decades earlier. Memories of the conflict were understandably high and permeated people’s humour and the way they saw others of a different nationality.

One joke in particular that I recall was about the Italian tank which had six reverse and one forward gear – and even that was in the event of being attacked from behind.

Witticisms like that are no longer issues on school playgrounds, if only because the average English child has barely any idea of what happened in WW2 and who fought whom.

But the analogy of an “Italian” tank – big, slow, unwieldy, only willing to move when under attack and not because of any independent tactical agility – has always remained with me as a classic way to describe organisations reluctant to admit fault and grindingly slow at changing direction. Which helps explain why there is no better way to describe the Money Advice Service than as an Italian tank.

Last week, MAS chairman Gerard Lemos wrote an article for Money Marketing where, for the first time, the vague sounds of an organisation coming to terms with a tidal wave of criticism could be dimly discerned.

But only very dimly. The criticisms of MAS from the Treasury select sub-committee were alluded to in the opening paragraph, not to mention Moneysavingexpert supremo Martin Lewis, who rightly described its website as “crap”. But even then, this remark was only referred to in the context of how much pleasure it would give Money Marketing’s IFA audience to read such criticisms.

Well, if truth be told, there are undoubtedly some advisers who do enjoy MAS having its nose rubbed in it. The service has consistently advertised itself under the false claim that it offers “free advice” when it does nothing of the sort – and its actual offering has been weak, to say the least.

But the truth is that for every IFA who grimly appreciates seeing MAS being given a “good kicking”, as Conservative MP Mark Garnier described it, there are at least 20 more who do not share the same amusement.

They see an organisation that could perform many vital tasks in terms of educating consumers – and thereby helping them appreciate the value of more targeted financial advice – failing miserably in this aim. They complain about the massive budget, which indirectly they are contributing towards, being wasted.

And they wonder whether this clanking machine, whose bosses – including both Tony Hobman and Gerard Lamos – have spent years in quango-funded roles, even before joining MAS, is ever going to be capable of delivering the kind of service consumers need.

Remember, this is the same Hobman who barely a few months ago was telling us that he needed his £350,000 in order to be incentivised further, who told MPs only in November last year that his earnings would prove to be value for money if MAS successfully made a difference to millions of people. Only it has not, has it?

The sad reality is that, for all of Lamos accepting these criticisms are “serious concerns which require serious responses”, he does not answer any of them in the pages of Money Marketing.

Instead, he asks us to “remind ourselves why we are here” as if the IFA community and consumer organisations were suffering from senile dementia. Look, we know the why, we just do not know whether you are up to the job.

To trot out claims about “100,000 people taking one or more immediate actions” following a visit to the MAS website, when his organisation has been unable to quantify these actions or how they impacted on the lives of those engaged in them, suggests an unwillingness to accept it is doing anything significantly wrong.

To suggest that MAS is a service still in its infancy is also wearing massively thin. Hobman has been in his role for two years while the website has been up and running for a year. In internet terms, that’s an eternity.

What annoys me as much is the fact that, in months and years to come, MAS will claim even further “successes”. Its role as the conduit through which existing organisations whose underpaid and over-worked staff deal with people facing massive debt and money problems must beg for funding, will be deemed a “success”. In other words, the hard work of others at the coalface of financial misery will be turned into an MAS achievement.

We are told that the MAS website is set for a revamp. In future, it will even add template letters for people to send to financial institutions. Moneysavingexpert or Thisis-money could have them up online in days or weeks – without us having to pay millions for the privilege.

Lamos says he is “keen to hear views from Money Marketing’s readers”. It’s guff. After the mauling MAS got from MPs, his PR advice will have been to play meek for now. Before MAS changes in substance rather than image, it will need a lot more “good kickings”.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk

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Comments

There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. It’s a pity tthe FSA and MAS don’t have the WW2 Italian flag, a white cross on a white background!
    Surrender and go home.

  2. it needs a kicking but what it will get is more money from IFAs. In the end it is the poor old IFA that will get the kicking by having to stump up more cash to fund this idiotic waste of time and money quango.

  3. Tanks are not nice places to be, in peace or war, believe me I’m trained on one!

    That said what the FSA are putting us IFA through at the minute gives me more anxiety than I ever endured in a Chieftain tank. Or on the streets of Belfast!

    I hate these meddlers with passion!

    Whilst I’m on it, the same meddlers of looking at cut backs in the forces once more! God help out boys in any existing or fuutre conflicts, all these things will be accountable at a cost, and when this is realised it will be to late for some IFA and sadely some of our forces!

    Where is it all going to end?

  4. If something breaks at home do you try to fix it or throw it away? I am not pro MAS as such but kicking them repeatedly is easy publicity and we don’t need more statements of the obvious.

  5. I was actually getting my moneys worth out of MAS, but not Mr Hobman. My MAS levy is £10 per annum and could easily spend that on producing and posting the MAS booklets to clients (which I often do).
    What I did object to was the level of salary of Mr Hobman and the usurping of the CAB’s role.
    In addition, the MAS telephone and interent service does not work for some people. I have tried my hardest to direct people who do not need direct face to face ADVICE to make use of MAS, but some people just want to sit down and have soemthing explained to them face to face.
    There is a real need for a simplified guidance service, but advisers can’t risk doing it because of this litigious society we now have and the FSA despite it’s statement via Hector Sants to the TSC that Simplified Guidance ( will not call it advice) as an essential part of RDR has been allowed to wither as we cannot afford to risk being accused of giving advice when somone can’t afford advice, we have not given it, but have given good solid guidance.

  6. With all that has gone on this week is this all you can come up with Nic. Pathetic!
    At this stage you should be saying that the banks have screwed the public AGAIN!, that the MAS is not fit for purpose and that the RDR fiasco is not being supported by Europe who think ‘its a bridge too far’ (WW2 reference) removing independent advice from the ordinary consumer. As usual Nic you are so far away from the issues.

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