The concept of public service is one that has faced great strain and tension over time. Since it usually applies to politicians framing legislation, the idea has often been dismissed by cynics who regard all politicians as ‘in it for themselves’. As a politics obsessive, I profoundly disagree with this attitude. News is generated about the politicians who misbehave and give the vocation a bad name. What is forgotten are all the admirable, selfless MPs who genuinely do work hard and help the vulnerable with their problems.
An individual however, that all could agree was a true public servant, is Martin Lewis. The founder and executive chairman of MoneySavingExpert.com, he has been a regular presence on our TVs and in our newspapers for over two decades, advising people on how they can make more economically wise decisions. Going against the grain of finance being a dull, time-consuming subject, Lewis makes the case for understanding how your money is being spent, as essential.
Even if you don’t follow financial news, Lewis’ face and voice will have been a ubiquitous one
I have written before about the huge social elitism that exists within finance, not least among those who can afford accountants to help them make wise choices. Lewis acts as a leveller. His website covers a whole range of personal finance categories, from cards and loans to travel, insurance and income. Under each header is a guide for the best deals which are most cost effective, providing all the guidance in one place for free.
These come alongside his regular appearances on programmes like ITV’s This Morning and stations like BBC Radio 5 Live. Even if you don’t follow financial news, Lewis’ face and voice will have been a ubiquitous one, partially due to the coherency with which he articulates his arguments. Regular phone-ins allow members of the public to pose their specific questions, with Lewis adept at framing a response, giving examples and helping lots of people at once.
Lewis has been a presence and needed voice of advice more than ever over the last two years. A tireless campaigner, he fought for the three million individuals excluded from any government support during the Covid-19 restrictions. More recently, Lewis has called for more government intervention during the cost of living crisis, stating there were no more financial tips he could provide (even producing a Heat the Human, not the Home blueprint). Chancellor Rishi Sunak has regularly been subject to interviews with Lewis to allow for effective scrutiny.
Lewis tirelessly showed his dedication to public awareness about the importance of finance
What, to me, makes Lewis even more of a public servant is that he could easily retire tomorrow. In 2012, he sold MoneySavingExpert.com to the MoneySupermarket group for up to £87 million. With the website having cost £100 to make in February 2003, this just demonstrates his value. Similarly, in July 2015, Lewis sold just over hall of his shares in the website for over £25 million. Able to make charitable donations, which he has done, the campaigner could quite easily never work another day if he so wished.
Given he is a multimillionaire, why does Lewis continue his tireless campaigning? Perhaps it was because his success was not instant initially. Lewis started his Money Saving persona on the satellite channel, Simply Money, though the channel’s poor viewing figures meant Lewis found himself redundant. Well aware of the time and effort it takes to cultivate a successful career in media and finance, Lewis tirelessly showed his dedication to public awareness about the importance of finance.
Lewis has also suffered immense tragedy in his personal life, having lost his mother in a car accident during his childhood. Becoming a patron of the children’s bereavement charity, Grief Encounter, has allowed him to spread an understanding of grief and sympathise with others. Indeed, this loss may have been what stirred him on towards wanting to help others with their own difficulties.
Perhaps he really is the embodiment of ‘money saving’, given all the advice we are able to receive from him on the best financial information, usually reserved for the very rich
He has therefore become the ultimate trusted figure, with the Money Saving website still retaining photos of him across their website. This trust has sometimes sadly worked against him, with Lewis starting legal action against Facebook for failing to block scam adverts with his face, advertising bitcoin and investing in a completely bogus manner. Though dropping the case when Facebook agreed to fund an anti-scam project, it demonstrates how the level of trust can work against him.
Given this success, making the leap into politics may seem like the next logical step. It is not one Lewis has chosen to take. Applying to the House of Lords as a cross bench peer a few years ago, he was rejected. Though recognising finance is immensely political, he has sought to remain above party politics. Perhaps he really is the embodiment of ‘money saving’, given all the advice we are able to receive from him on the best financial information, usually reserved for the very rich. And we get it all for free. No wonder Lewis was made a CBE in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to broadcasting and consumer rights.