I am not sure if this will blow any vestiges of credibility that I might have about claiming to be young any more, but I sometimes listen to Radio 4. On a Saturday morning from 9am-10am, there is a slot called Home Truths presented by the still-dead-cool John Peel.
It is an hour's worth of witty anecdotes of, dare I say, “middle-class” home life. Like most of the BBC's output, you can go back and listen at your leisure online.
If you have got time, go and have a listen to the first Home Truths of the year on January 3. Skip forward and listen to an exceptionally tender morsel about 34 minutes in.
This particular story involved a mother and daughter. She was keen to understand why her mother's five-year bond had gone down in value, so she popped into the bank to find out. From her comments, it was quite clear that she found the whole process disheartening and depressing. She explained how ludicrous she found the entire thing, especially as her mother had trouble speaking – at one point, the adviser chastised her for correcting her mother's faltering answer to “what is your date of birth?” All very amusing to listen to but it does give you a picture of some stern Civil Service-like, box-ticking, bank employee who is “just following the rules”.
The upshot of this story was a public service broadcast message from the normally unflappable John Peel – you know the sort of thing – the voice deepens; there is a pregnant pause followed by a serious announcement. Apparently, following a recent similar experience himself, he “would rather undergo rectal surgery than endure another meeting with a financial adviser who suggested he 'invest invest invest'.” He went on to profess in an endearingly gullible way not to having understood anything beyond “would you like a cup of tea?” I sat there wondering what we could learn from this outburst of asperity. You see, it takes this sort of frank and honest statement to make us sit up and listen – some people out there simply are not interested and, even more, do not understand, what on earth it is that we do for them. Mind you, it does compound my theory that smaller IFA firms take better care of clients than the bigger nationals and banks. Can you imagine your own firm treating people like that?
I suspect I am a little more stubborn than most and it only makes me worse when I hear groundless objections and inaccurate statements by broadcasters. A short while after the banker's tale, my incredulity was further poked by a piece, again on the BBC (on one of its website forums this time), about how women should be empowered to take control of their own finances.
Financial pundit Jasmine Birtles, co-author of A Girl's Best Friend is Her Money was keen to give her advice on all sorts of financial matters, most of which seemed pretty good to me. However, the following gem made me wonder, “Even as little as £25 a month in a tracker fund, which tracks shares in the FTSE 100 and pays compound interest, is a good investment over time. It will earn many thousands by the time you retire. These do better than managed funds, and without lining the pockets of braces-wearing City fund managers who get Porsches for Christmas.”
So this got me thinking – who the blazes is this Jasmine pundit anyway and, more important, is she subject to the same regulations and comeback like the rest of us?
Thirty seconds later, the internet revealed the following, “Jasmine Birtles is an exceptional, versatile and prolific talent. She has written over 30 books, including the bestseller, A Little Book Of Abuse, and has charmed and entertained audiences of all kinds. She is a stand-up comedienne, mostly working in clubs around London, and used to run her own club off Baker Street called The Giggling Elk.”
Something tells me she is not quite an authorised adviser but I would love to be told that she is and that the BBC is using only the best advisers that money can buy to give what is effectively direction to thousands, if not millions, of “believing” internet users. If she is not, who is going to report her and the BBC to the FSA for giving unauthorised advice?
Whether the FSA likes it or not, the media advise members of the public on financial matters and so should be regulated in the same way as the rest of us. Or does life not work like that?
Tom Kean is compliance officer at The Analysts