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Correspondent’s Week

This week by freelance personal finance journalist Kirstie RedfordWhen someone asks what you do for a living and you reply freelance journalist, the pitch of the person asking you nearly always takes an excited turn as they gush: “Ooh, who do you write for, anyone interesting?” It is at this point that I almost always begin to wonder how my life may have turned out if I had not ended up writing about personal finance.

After a particularly hard week of killer deadlines for articles, in which everyone I need to interview seems to be away at three-day conferences or off with flu – or so they told me – I take myself off for some much needed drinks with pals. After a few rounds at the pub and feeling chatty, it is in the taxi ride home that the inevitable question raises its head. You can always count on a taxi driver.

I have still to meet a financial journalist who truly set out to conquer the pinks as they started their career. Journalists do, after all, like to think of themselves as creative types so writing about mortgage rates and discussing the finer points of underwriting with actuaries is rarely going to be a childhood ambition.

Sitting in the taxi, I once again prepare to hear the excitement wane as I reveal that I mainly wrote about personal finance – “You know, mortgages, insurance and the like”. However, this taxi driver responds without complete disinterest. He asks which mortgage deal he should switch to.

It is amazing what quality financial advice a half-cut journalist can give – maybe the FSA should be looking to expand its remit to regulate this kind of activity. Despite the total absence of a reasons why letter or any evidence to support the treating customers’ fairly initiative, the taxi driver assures me he will be taking my advice and switching to the recommended product the very next day.

Perhaps more surprising is that this is the second time this week that a stranger asks what I write about and does not show apathy when I tell them. But then it is an IFA.

I go to see an adviser to chat through my dismal options for a personal pension – a task I have been putting off for over 15 months, since giving up my staff job and cushy final-salary pension to go freelance.

I always try not to disclose the fact that I am a personal finance journalist when arranging my own finances but the subject inevitably rears its head. My fear is – as has happened on previous occasions – that the adviser becomes a little nervous and presumes I have a tape recorder in my handbag ready somehow to try and catch them out, as they explain everything very thoroughly.

However, this adviser takes the opportunity to have a rant about service levels and the criminally low levels of commission available for pensions before questioning me why it costs so much to advertise in the press and why it is that the same companies always get quoted – getting free publicity – in the trade press. Here was I thinking that I had gone to him for all the answers. Still, it made for a more interesting conversation.

So what have I learnt this week? Well, writing about personal finance may not seem like the sexiest branch of journalism but giving out unregulated advice can help keep awkward silences at bay with taxi drivers while an innocent trip to sort out your pension can spur a whole raft of features ideas if the IFA is feeling a bit peeved.

The positives do not stop there. At this time of year, as we officially approach the pre-Christmas season, the market’s PRs have an unexplained urge to invite journalists to quaff free bubbly and send exciting gifts through the post. Must have been a good career move after all.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: paul.mcmillan@centaur.co.uk or telephone: 020 7970 4776

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