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Kim North: Focus on journo skills, not perks

Instead of recording who bought who a drink, it is more important to concentrate on ensuring journalists have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs properly.

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Fellow Money Marketing columnist Nic Cicutti believes any hospitality paid for by product or service providers costing more than £50 should be registered not just by financial advisers but also by journalists. This information, he believes, should be accessible by the public.

I disagree with him as I would not include journalists recording freebies in the hospitality book as where would the buck stop? Do columnists that are not journalists need to start recording all the hospitality we receive?

Many activities can be open to bias but I truly believe that in the professional workplace, bias rarely raises its head in the financial services journalistic world. 

I do, however, believe that journalists should be incentivised to do product based exams so they know, for example, when a press release arrives in their in-box they know the difference between a Sipp and a SSAS, a Sicav and an Oeic and what makes up a TER.

I believe it is more dangerous for the press to be factually incorrect than the worry that extra column inches are given to a provider that has talked for hours to the journalist over an expensive lunch about a new product launch.

Financial services journalists currently need to understand the implications of the repricing on platforms and funds for clean pricing. Last week, I had to read Hargreaves Lansdown’s new brochure covering changes to its Vantage service. I had to reread a few times to understand the repricing implications as its complex. I did wonder if some customers of Hargreaves and junior journalists would fully understand the content.

With the regulator making platform charges unbundled and no longer able to cross-subsidise fund and platform charges, we are heading into “cheapest is best” competition.

It has been proved time and time again cheapest funds are generally not the best performers. Platforms are simply an open architecture piece of technology that offers service and we all know that the cheapest service is not always the most suitable. By making charges clearer and transparent, the charging structure laid out as a tiered menu approach is more complex for consumers to understand.

Whose responsibility is it to help the public understand these issues when adviser charging makes it too expensive for millions to seek advice? Journalists, I hear you say. So if I continue to train Money Marketing journalists and then buy a bottle of wine for them in the Adam & Eve pub next door, who records what as neither party is a product or service provider?

It is known that journalists are not very highly paid and the ‘free perks’ add to the remuneration of the role. If freebies are restricted, talented young journalists may choose to cover other industries which I am sure you will agree will be a great loss to financial services.

Kim North (kim@techandtech.co.uk) is managing director of Technology and Technical

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Comments

There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Kim asks whether columnists who are not journalists should record the freebies they receive.

    The answer is yes Kim, that includes you. Let me add that in my column I wasn’t sure whether the £50 limit was right, Maybe £100 would be a better figure. That’s open to debate and I’m not fussed what it is.

    But I certainly think that there should be a central register, open to the public, where all hospitality over a certain amount is recorded.

    As for HL’s new Vantage charges, my take on it is that if you need an expensive lunch to understand them, as opposed to a coffee and a slice of cake in the nearest Uno/Costa, then you’re in the wrong job.

    Which brings me on to the suggestion that talented young journalists might seek another branch of the profession if they are denied the opportunity to indulge in freebies. Are you serious? Do you really hold journalists in such contempt as to imagine that’s what they are like?

    Not that I think HL would stoop to that anyway: I’ve met Tom McPhail in a coffee shop in central London before now, discussed what we needed to and both of us were perfectly happy with that arrangement.

    As for buying journos a bottle of wine at the end of a tough working day, that’s very generous. My take on it is that if you’re spending (a revised sum of) £100 per journalist you’re either buying some very expensive wine or trying to turn them into alkies.

    Which may be a good thing, who knows? But if so, why not record it? At the very least, there will be an online trail when they go in for that liver transplant. And yes, it should be you that records it.

    BTW, I’ve been to the same pub and managed a meal and three pints for well under £50, never mind £100, so it is highly unlikely you’d breach any rules. Unless you really do want give them alcohol poisoning.

    😉

  2. Sorry Kim maybe I have misunderstood you but are you suggesting that somehow journalists are less likely to be swayed by ‘freebies’ than regulated financial advisers?

    If so the recent court cases involving the press don’t back you up.

    The press will probably have more of an influence on the financial planning of the publc than individual advisers going forward as they try out DIY investing following RDR – therefore they will be heavily influenced by any article extoling the virtues of an investment in the money section of their newspaper. As such financial journalists should be subject to the same rules regarding ‘freebies’ as financial advisers.

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