Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wasteful Quangos

National Consumer Agency
The NCA should be renamed The National Survey Agency.
Since Biffo’s famous aside to Mary Coughlan, this agency has been revealed to be completely toothless when it comes to ensuring that the price benefits arising from the strength of the Euro are passed on to consumers.
Instead we’re offered the mind-blowing advice to “shop around” and reassured that the agency will continue to conduct and publish shopping surveys.
There may well be nothing the NCA can do. But, in that event, do we really need a separate agency to carry out such surveys? Surely this could be organised quite easily by the relevant Govt department, but with a substantially reduced overhead.

Financial Regulator
During the week, a Prime Time report involved some mystery shopping of financial institutions, using an 82-year old woman to seek advice about what to do with a substantial lump sum she had to invest. PermanentTSB landed themselves in hot water when one of their “financial advisors” gave her incorrect and misleading information.

Mary O’Dea, Consumer Director with the Financial Regulator was interviewed on Morning Ireland where it became clear that her agency don’t actually do any mystery shopping themselves. This is an extraordinary admission. Mystery Shopping is the most standard of techniques for a consumer agency, particularly where something intangible like “advice” is being sold.
It’s unbelievable that the Financial Regulator does not an ongoing programme of mystery shopping underway since its inception, providing regular reports to both the public and the financial institutions as to outcomes. This would serve to keep the institutions on their toes and provide some re-assurance to consumers.
Instead, they give us naff ads like “I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is”, and insist that all ads from financial institutions carry a long set of standard messages which, in reality, are virtually meaningless and are only there to remind us all that there is a Financial Regulator. But who actually reads that tiny fly-shit print at the bottom of a press or tv ad? Who actually believes Sean Moncrieff when he says “but no sneaky ones”? How carefully has he checked?

When it comes to enforcement, what exactly can the Financial Regulator do for consumers with a complaint against a financial institution that the Financial Ombudsman is not already charged with doing? I think it’s time to give Mary O’Dea the chop!

Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement

Then there’s the ODCE, which should have taken firm action against DCC & Jim Flavin following the Supreme Court decision that the Fyffes share sale had been a case of insider dealing. Instead, it was left to the IAIM to take a stand, and only then did ODCE do what is should have done years ago.

But what it does best is let the general public know it exists with a series of bloody stupid radio ads regarding the responsibilities of directors. The reality is that all these ads do is say “hey, we exist”.
Information regarding the responsibilities of directors would be best communicated through the appropriate industry bodies e.g. IBEC, ISME, SFA, through the legal and accountancy professions and through the companies office when a company is actually registered.
For a fraction of the cost of radio ads, detailed and relevant information could be delivered to the appropriate people.
The radio ads are just an ego-trip. Someone in the relevant Govt Dept should be asking “who gave these effers a marketing budget at all?”

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