A whole bunch of disagreeable livestock is gathering around the poor old Money Advice Service. Exhausted by the savaging it’s taken ever since it was launched – actually, since before it was launched – it’s just lying there on the ground, not really moving, waiting for one of the circling wolves, jackals, hyenas and suchlike to deliver the fatal wound.
And here’s the good bit: I told you so! In fact, I told you so repeatedly, on the first occasion even getting in ahead of the first hyenas (or, you might say, actually being the first hyena). Here’s what I wrote in this blog in February 2009, just before Money Guidance (as it was then called) went on its initial regional test up in the North-West of England:
” I think that no matter how it’s branded, marketed and promoted, the service will always struggle to maintain its focus on what its ultimate sponsors – the Treasury – see as its primary role:- encouraging more young mass market and downmarket people to put more money into long-term savings. Trouble is, this just isn’t the guidance that most young mass market and downmarket people want to hear. On the whole, they want and need guidance on day-to-day financial issues, particularly to do with debt. It is mainly older upmarket people who want advice on savings and investments, especially now when they look with horror at the risks of investment and the hopelessly-low returns on savings. In between young families panicking about mortgage payments, and retired people panicking about their investment income, I think the guiders will struggle to keep their eye on Alistair Darling’s ball, so to speak.”
And if that wasn’t prescient enough for you, how about this from two years later, when despite the extremely ambiguous results of the pilots it was decided to roll the scheme out nationally anyway:
“The lurking bear-trap in the whole Money Advice concept has always been that it’ll finish up spending a ton of money giving advice on the wrong subjects to the wrong people (especially the latter – the idea is not and has never been to offer free chats, coffee and biscuits to retired pensioners with large amounts of savings and too much time on their hands). The way the protagonist is presented in the commercial seems to me to give the whole project a big shove towards that bear trap.
Much as it grieves me to say so, I think IFAs are actually right to be pretty grumpy about this. The rest of us will have to settle for being mystified – except for a few cynics and sceptics, who may wonder whether, by deliberately recruiting the wrong user profile, those in charge are building a pretext for canning the whole thing in a year or two.”
I’m not sure if the whole Money Advice thing was ever do-able,but it certainly isn’t remotely do-able in the way it’s been done. That’s a shame, I suppose, but it’s also an extremely telling demonstration – that the very same people whose job it is to tell us how we’re allowed to engage with consumers haven’t got the faintest idea how to do so themselves.