Department for Work & Pensions  

Firing Line Caroline Rookes

Firing Line Caroline Rookes

The Money Advice Service (Mas) has not had a happy existence. Criticised almost from the start, for being too vague, spending too much money on marketing, and stealing financial advisers' branding, it is now being merged into a single body together with The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and Pension Wise; effectively disappearing after a troubled genesis.

Its current chief executive, Caroline Rookes, announced at the end of last year, that she would leave early and retire in April. This was despite the Financial Conduct Authority and HM Treasury approving her reappointment until February 2019, after three years in the role.

Speaking before the publication of detailed government plans on the single guidance body just before Christmas, Ms Rookes said: "I came on a three-year contract and my plan was to do the three years and to leave, but as it turned out with the timing of various reviews and announcements at the end of the three years, it just didn't seem the right time to go.

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"It seemed important to stabilise the organisation, and with the latest ministerial decision to create the single guidance body to take the best of Mas and TPAS, it was a good time to step down and hand the reins to someone else."

The MAS has had a troubled existence from the start. Formed in 2011 on the back of the Thoresen Review of generic financial advice, the idea behind it was to encourage people to budget properly, to manage their debts and understand how to engage with financial services.

But the criticism subsequently levelled at Mas was that it was unclear how it should go about this, especially since several well-established organisations such as Step Change, TPAS and Citizens Advice already did much of this work. 

 

Abolished 

The organisation spent tens of millions on establishing a brand, to persuade people to come to its website, and paid its initial chief executive Tony Hobman £350,000. Several reviews later – from HM Treasury, the National Audit Office and the Treasury select committee – it was decided last year to abolish it. The original plan was to create two organisations – a slimmed-down guidance body and a pensions guidance organisation, announced in the Budget last March. This was changed in October last year, when it was announced that there would be a single guidance body, following representations from industry.

Ms Rookes said: "I don't think it had a clear enough view of what it wanted to do. It took some time to work that through.

"I was clear from the start what our long-term objective was, and therefore what we needed to do to get there. We have a very strong sense of direction and clear strategy for the next couple of years. My intention is to create a very strong legacy that understands what the consumer needs, and works with partners to deliver that."

One of the main challenges for Mas in the advice sector was whether it was taking over from financial advisers in their role. This was not helped many have argued, by the word 'advice' in Mas's name.