Martin Bamford: How to make personal finance as popular as Bake Off


I understand there is a bit of a furore right now about something called The Great British Bake Off. My wife enjoys watching Bake Off and, from the little I have seen, it is a harmless enough concept. It is also incredibly popular television, resulting in real commercial success for its owner Love Productions.

It has recently sold the rights for three years’ worth of future episodes to Channel 4 for a reported £25m a year. Although with three-quarters of the presenting staff having left, some are suggesting it paid £75m for a big tent and some ovens.

Whether or not Bake Off will continue to be so popular when it moves is yet to be seen. What is clear is that television formats like this get people engaged with a particular topic. Britain has become a nation of bakers in the six years since Bake Off began, creating a baking industry worth an estimated £3.4bn.

Would it be possible to generate the same mass market appeal for personal financial planning? I was recently approached by a television production company that wanted help creating a new series about retirement planning. After some careful thinking, I decided to turn down the offer. As fun and rewarding as it sounded it would have been difficult to juggle with my existing commitments.

When we hear about financial planning on the TV or radio, or read about it in the weekend papers, it tends to come from one of a handful of the usual suspects. These are either experienced broadcasters from outside of financial services or so-called media IFAs. And there is certainly room for new blood among professional commentators on money matters.

But even with a wide range of commentators bringing personal finance to the people, we are unlikely to get the same level of engagement as that prompted by the likes of Bake Off.

Looking to the US, which always seems to be about a decade ahead of us in most respects, there are some fantastic examples. Take Dave Ramsey who has created a media empire around the subject of personal financial planning. He is a larger than life character, truly engaging and inspirational, who broadcasts a nationally syndicated TV and radio show from his office each day. Where is the UK version of The Dave Ramsey Show that can inspire people to make the most of their money?

If we rely on TV production companies to decide on the format for personal finance shows, we risk losing control of the message and even having entertainment elevated above genuinely helpful messages.

We can all keep plugging away at financial education on a one-to-one basis but the relatively small number of advisers in this country means that will only ever be a drop in the ocean.

The Government has already proven itself to be incapable of delivering a meaningful personal finance education service, with millions wasted by the Money Advice Service on vanity advertising and uninspiring web-based tools.

Within the brightest minds of the UK financial services space, there must be the capacity to come up with a way to elevate personal finance to the same level as home cooking. Or perhaps we are all too busy watching The Great British Bake Off?

Martin Bamford is managing director of Informed Choice