Much of the talk around the industry is about consumer education. This is seen as the panacea to closing the savings gap and persuading citizens that saving is a good thing to do.
Is this correct? Well, to a certain extent, of course it is. The savings ethic has been eroded over the years by a number of things. I think it goes back to the oil crisis of the early 1970s which resulted in raging inflation. This meant that saving for items became a bit of a waste of time as, by the time you thought you had saved enough, the item had leapt in price and was still out of reach. It was cheaper to borrow. This lack of savings ethic has been pushed down into subsequent generations. It is partly through properly targeted consumer education that the savings ethic that existed prior to the 1970s may be revived.
Another reason is the ease of credit and peer pressure through media advertising of goods, which is particularly heavy around Christmas. This was dealt with in my last article in this column.
So, how can consumer education, at least in part, help? We have to consider the target audience – largely the low-paid and medium-paid. In my view, very effective consumer education can be through media advertising on TV and radio and in the press.
Let us start with the press. The main thrust should be in the tabloids, perhaps using cartoons of well known characters. How about Homer Simpson (copyright and expense of permission permitting) bemoaning the fact that he has saved nothing and how is he going to manage when he retires and possibly starting to cram as much savings as he could starting from now? (I can't imagine Montgomery Burns allowing a company pension scheme).
As far as TV is concerned, we could have ads during, say, Coronation Street or football matches showing, for example, Wendy Richard as Pauline Fowler as a self-employed launderette owner also in the same position as Homer Simpson and undertaking the same remedial action.
To take matters further, looking at the long term, I think it is necessary, as far as the savings culture in the UK is concerned, to “catch them while they're young”. Do you remember Peter and Jane books? They still exist in principle although I think the names and the style have changed since my day. One of these, for bedtime stories, could be based on saving pocket money.
Of course, it goes without saying that some sort of financial management subject should be part of the national curriculum for children – leading to GCSE, A-level and, ultimately, degree level. Financial management in some form or another is undertaken every day in our lives – formal education does not make us ready for it. As a subject, it is surely as important and relevant as maths, English and science and will serve to encourage a savings attitude.
So, who pays for all of this? It is a Government problem so, to be frank, it is the Government who should pay. Surely this is so important a problem that this area of consumer education should definitely be undertaken – commencing soon, if not sooner.
Brian Lawless is managing director of Sofa