You would imagine Money Advice Service (MAS) chief executive Caroline Rookes is happy to see the back of 2013. In February last year she replaced Tony Hobman, who had faced criticism over his £350,000 pay package, only to find herself under fire.
The MAS’s £18 million spend on marketing was savaged by MPs in June, with Treasury sub-committee chairman George Mudie putting it bluntly: ‘We don’t know what the hell you are doing with it’. The committee followed that with a damning report on the MAS published last month. It branded the organisation ‘not fit for purpose’, although it stopped short of calling for it to be scrapped.
Just days later the National Audit Office weighed in with its verdict on the MAS, saying it had not yet proved its money advice offering represented value for money. It did say, however, that performance had improved, and urged the organisation to build stronger links with financial advisers.
Rookes (pictured) has defended the MAS against MPs’ criticisms, arguing their conclusions were largely based on evidence taken more than a year ago, although she is conscious of the scrutiny that has been levelled at the organisation’s expenditure.
Promising to spend wisely
Last month, the MAS set itself a £77.5 million budget for 2014/15, down slightly on £78.3 million for 2013/14. The organisation’s marketing spend has been kept at £13.5 million, the same level as last year, representing a reduction on the £18 million spent in 2012/13.
‘I am very conscious that we are using money from the financial services sector, the levy, and we need to make sure we spend it wisely,’ said Rookes. ‘I want us to be as efficient and effective as we can.
‘There has been a lot of criticism about our marketing spend. We plan for it to be broadly levelled next year compared to this, and I think that is reasonable,’ she said.
Engaging the public
Rookes said without money spent on marketing to raise awareness of its work, building up tools and capacity was ‘not a lot of use’.
‘There will always be an amount of spend that we need to ensure engagement,’ she said. ‘But also we’re moving from just raising awareness of the MAS; our publicity and marketing is also about getting advice and information across.
‘That’s the direction we want to go in more and more: to combine awareness with giving people advice. It might be the publicity becomes enough and they don’t need to use the site.’
She is bullish about the service the MAS has been delivering to its users.
‘The information we’ve collected suggests there’s a very high level of satisfaction with our service,’ she said. ‘We have 1.5 million customers coming to us every month and over 80% of them think they’re getting the help they need.’
Working with advisers
Rookes said the MAS had independently been putting some of the recommendations of the NAO report into effect. The organisation had also put its relationship with advisers under focus.
‘We at the Money Advice Service are absolutely clear that where people need professional advice, they should be referred to it,’ she said.
‘We’re looking at the whole area of working with the financial adviser community to make sure we make those links as quick and easy as we can for people. We’re not there to tread on the toes of the professional adviser community but to make sure where people need that advice, they can get it.’
2013-present Money Advice Service, chief executive
2005-2013 Department for Work and Pensions, director of private pensions
2001-2005 Inland Revenue, business director of savings, pensions and share schemes
1999-2001 Inland Revenue, business director of charities
1998-1999 Department of Health and Social Security, deputy director of housing benefit administration
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It’s A Wonderful Life
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Everything by John Irving and Margaret Atwood
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