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Home > Opinion > Kevin O'Donnell

IFAs and wider sector should support Money Advice Service

Mas’s role is necessary and its aim to educate the public about personal finance is laudable.

By Kevin O Donnell | Published Jul 12, 2012 | Your Industry | comments

We seem to be living in an era of savage predators bringing down some mighty financial beasts.

The law of the jungle is now being applied routinely as the chief executive and chairman of Barclays found to their cost, two more scalps in a brutal game.

One of the more recent victims was perhaps less well known. Tony Hobman, chief executive of the Money Advice Service, who was on a reported salary of £250,000 a year and whose respectable aim was to bring basic financial education to the masses, recently became the latest victim of the hunting season. Not something you would imagine would draw the ire of MPs but it did.

The MAS, formerly the Consumer Financial Education Body, was set up by the FSA and instigated by the government to separate the educational role of the City watchdog from its regulatory duties.

Sadly the MAS has come in for a savaging almost from day one, accused of being out of touch, too expensive, poorly thought out and simply not fit for the job – its latest business plan lambasted as being full of holes.

No wonder, like a wounded wildebeest, Mr Hobman (and his organisation) were metaphorically ripped to shreds by the committee and roasted to perfection. He resigned soon afterwards.

One of his fiercest critics was Martin Lewis, the founder of the Money Saving Expert website, which he has just sold for approximately £87m.

Now do not get me wrong, I am a big fan of Mr Lewis and his site. He and his site have probably done more to popularise personal finance than any other in recent times, working tirelessly to provide simple, topical and useful advice and tips on money, and he deserves his pay day, but there is another side to this story.

Mr Lewis told MPs that the MAS was “bland, boring, unnecessary and unproductive” Perhaps many of those epithets apply but “unnecessary”? Do we really need less education rather than more? It is worth remembering that MoneySavingExpert earns most of its revenue from commissions paid by financial services providers, often price comparison sites, who benefit from the traffic or referrals that MoneySavingExpert generates.

MoneySavingExpert does not hide this but it should be remembered that this is a commercial service while the MAS is, as far as I know, not.

The MAS may be “bland and boring” but since when has personal finance been sexy and exciting?

I have lost count of the number of times investors have lost their shirt with so-called ‘sexy’ or ‘exciting’ investments that went sour. Saving money is boring but necessary. It provides for a rainy day or helps make retirement a little more comfortable but it does not blow anyone’s socks off when it comes to the exhilarating things to do with your time, unless you are an actuary of course (apologies to actuaries for that cheap dig).

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