A crucial factor in closing the savings gap is increasing consumer awareness of the need to save. This seems quite obvious to me – and I am sure to most of you. However, the powers that be seem more interested in education about product features than in increasing understanding about the benefits of said products.
Any good adviser worth his or her salt will know that it is what a product can do for a client not what it does per se that is the important factor.
Agreed, it is very important to assist consumers in identifying the good from the bad and the ugly. However, it is a well-known fact that the vast majority find the entire subject somewhat uninteresting.
This is not something that is just restricted to financial products – take cars and washing machines for example. I know for a fact that the vast majority of my female friends, even though they both own and drive cars, have no wish to know the intricate workings of the internal combustion engine. Many, myself included, would even go so far as to avoiding delving under the bonnet – leaving the so-called experts to look after that side of things.
A similar phenomenon exists with a lot of men (particularly those with a woman around the house) and washing machines.
My personal view is that a very effective and simple way to heighten consumer awareness of the need for financial planning is to use popular media. Look what TV has done for the medical profession, through the likes of ER, Dr Kildare and Casualty. OK, healthcare is essential but isn't money too?
And what about other professions? The legal, veterinary, dental and even hairdressing and building professions have all had their moments, so why not IFAs? Just imagine what thrilling story lines could be thought up. Of course there would have to be some romance and adventure in there too but hey that should not be too difficult – we are, after all, a pretty exciting bunch already.
But wait a minute, there is an IFA on TV at the moment – as I discovered recently when I left work early suffering from a rather nasty bout of flu. As I settled down for a quiet night in front of the telly I caught two of the nation's favourite programmes, Coronation Street and Eastenders.
The IFA in question appeared on Corrie and is a rather nasty character called Richard. It seems this guy has had “dodgy” written all over him for some time but in this episode he takes things a step further, killing his ex and erstwhile business partner with a finely executed spade to the head. A fine ambassador for our profession.
Feeling thoroughly miserable by now I flicked over to the other side to catch Eastenders – nothing like watching other people's misery, albeit fictitious, to make one feel better. This was far more interesting.
In this episode the local lady of the night, Janine, was extorting money out of local chippy owner and client, Ian Beale. Ill as I was, my imagination started to get the better of me – or perhaps it was the hallucinogenic effects of my flu remedy. It seemed to me that this lass could do with some financial advice. She appeared to be making a pretty tidy income but was squandering it very readily.
For starters she could do with some investment advice, a good high-interest bearing account, maybe a cash Isa for tax efficiency. Perhaps a stakeholder to start building up some security for her later years when her income producing assets have gone well past their sell-by date.
Enter her white knight, a local friendly IFA, to make sure young Janine's money is working as hard as it possibly can. No doubt this paragon of all that is good could by example demonstrate the benefits of customer care, i.e. put the customer first, meet their expectations and be discrete.
I am sure such a lesson would ensure her customers would be completely satisfied and continue to come back for more. She might even find she builds up very healthy referral business in the process too.
Flu can do strange things.
Donna Bradshaw is a director at Fiona Price & Partners