Nic Cicutti: Massow should do the right thing with remaining trail

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Many years ago, shortly after  I left my role as a reporter for Money Marketing to work on a national newspaper, I went for a drink with a highly respected financial adviser in Soho.

We proceeded to get steamingly drunk in a pub, discussing industry matters and swapping gossip. I do not remember who brought up the subject of Ivan Massow.

Back then, in the early to mid-1990s, Massow was a startlingly successful IFA who was receiving attention not just from the trade press but from all the nationals.

My impression was of a clever young man who, through a combination of luck and shrewd judgement, had stumbled across a fantastic niche audience beginning to stand up for itself and discover its financial muscle.

Moreover, Massow’s positioning of his IFA business, including a brilliant reworking of Allied Dunbar’s slogan – from “For the life you don’t yet know” to “For the life you don’t want Allied Dunbar to know about” – spoke to more than just the gay community of which he was openly a member.

It resonated just as loudly with a hedonistic post-Acid House generation of fun-loving twenty-somethings for whom the subject of financial services was a total bore.

If he played it carefully, I thought, Massow could build a great business by crossing over into the mainstream, catching people young and keeping hold of them as they became gradually more affluent.

Back to my evening at the pub with the financial adviser. When Massow’s name came up, far from entering a discussion over his business potential, my drinking companion shocked me by launching into a foul-mouthed homophobic tirade.

He was only a few years older than me, well educated, mildly left of centre politically and someone with whom I had previously felt an affinity.

Yet like many of us, he harboured his own prejudices which, when alcohol had loosened his tongue, he was happy to share, perhaps because he felt we were kindred spirits in that regard. We were not.

The more I tried to argue with him, the worse – and louder – he became, to the point where I was so embarrassed that I made my excuses and went home.

I remembered this episode last week after reading that Massow’s latest trail commission rebating venture, paymemy.com, had bitten the dust.

I have not been a fan of Massow’s entrepreneurial skills since the late 1990s when it became increasingly evident that he was falling victim to his own hubris.

His business collapses and reinventions – from niche IFA catering to the gay market to becoming an agent for Zurich, a company he had previously excoriated in its Allied Dunbar days – became too much to bear.

For me, Massow’s credibility finally vanished along with CompareForGood, the price comparison website he briefly launched in 2010 which promised to pay two-thirds of its commission earnings to Oxfam.

CompareForGood has disappeared, the only clue to its once-promising existence being a few online press stories and a link to BeatThatQuote, the site that provided the white-label comparison service on Oxfam’s behalf.

Two years ago I wrote about Massow’s latest venture, paymemy.com, saying: “I would find it incredibly difficult to hand over any portion of my savings to a firm headed by [him].” That comment sounds even more prescient today.

Bear in mind also that, even assuming a huge part of his claims about the “tens of thousands” of clients he was attracting was pure bombast, paymemy.com is still receiving a large amount of trail commission, none of which will now be rebated to clients.

Massow should announce that after any winding-down costs, he will donate all of this recurring trail income to charity. Oxfam, the aid organisation selected for his previous failed attempt at altruistic munificence, is one potential recipient.

All that said, I cannot help feeling that an element of the schadenfreude displayed in last week’s online comments from advisers about Massow’s failed business is about more than a former adviser who tried to grab some of the trail earnings from their mouths. I suspect that at least part of it is down to something darker and more primeval than that.

Either way, it does not matter. The important thing about Massow’s trail rebating idea is that he was neither the first nor last person to come up with it.

It is almost certain that more credible proponents of the same message will emerge in the coming years. They will find eager listeners.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk