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Correspondent’s week

This week by freelance personal finance journalist Stephen Ellis

At the start of the week, I was full of joie de vivre and by the end, there were signs of hopeful anticipation. However, in between, I was plunged into the depths of despair.

It was the week of the Building Societies’ Association conference in Manchester but that was not the cause of my depression, nor was it the most important event. I am an Arsenal fan. Football was on my mind throughout the week and what took place in the Stade de France cast a cloud over everything else that happened.

To gauge its importance, I even turn down the chance of an evening of food and drinks with building society PRs and other hacks just to go home and watch the game. Such freebie bashes rarely occur on your doorstep when you live outside London. That is why it was so good to have the BSA conference in Man-chester’s International Convention Centre.

Mind you, there did seem to be an obvious link with the Mortgage Business Expo in the G-Mex centre next door, which no one exploited. Indeed, no one at either event seemed to know anything about the other one.

One of the bugbears of personal finance journalists is the case study. When you find one that seems to work, you feel you have hit pay dirt. When there are signs they are going wrong, it is a catastrophe.

The week hardly gets off to a good start when I hear that a case study for the Telegraph had been awkward when contacted by the photographer and is asking what financial inducement there is for him to take part.

To make matters worse, in my haste to get everyone involved, I mistakenly send the email to Charlton Athletic supporter Ben Rogof of Polar Capital Technology investment trust instead of Ben Robinson of New Star (a Spurs supporter). Oh the joys of the internet, where every last little error is exposed for all the world to see.

Just how much computers have come to dominate our lives was demonstrated by the bank of machines available to journalists in the press room at the BSA conference. It was not so many years ago when you were hard pressed to find a phone you could use to file copy at such events.

Mind you, I am getting long in the tooth. I have a couple of drinks with Market Harborough chief exec Philip Dearing. It is the first time I have seen him in some 12 years. In the intervening period, the whole of the financial services industry has changed drastically, as he reveals by telling me that nearly 40 per cent of his society’s overall business now has some internet connection.

There is also a session on internet selling at the BSA conference although my attention is drawn to a discussion about ageism, where most of the commentators seem to be close to retirement age, whatever that might be.

But the conference gives me a great chance to catch up with friends and contacts such as Alan Oliver of Nationwide (a Chelsea fan), Alison Rolls of Norwich & Peterborough (a Norwich City supporter with a Chelsea fan for a husband) and Rachel Blackmore of the BSA (whose other half supports West Ham).

Also managed to squeeze in a meeting with the Co-op’s Dave Smith (a long-term Stoke supporter). He talks about the need for England supporters to check their insurance if travelling to the World Cup in Germany. He even manages to mention motor, travel and breakdown cover in the same breath.

Frankly, I am becoming more pessimistic about England’s chances. Then comes the good news that Thierry Henry is planning on staying at Arsenal.

The case study problem was also sorted out. Not such a bad week after all.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: or telephone: 020 7970 4776


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