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Steve Bee: Changing advice for changing realities

There seem to be two types of financial advice. The one the industry is most familiar with is centred around investment advice. But not everyone has money to invest, and advice for many millions of people is more likely required to be focused on debt management and saving strategies.

It is nice – fun, even – to face the happy problem of having to decide where best to invest your savings, but less so taking the sometimes daunting first steps towards accumulating those savings in the first place.

That is because of something we call real life. It is far easier to live for today and worry about tomorrow when we get there.

Plenty of cautionary tales have been told down the ages to alert people to the dangers of living beyond their means. But it is not until quite recently that we have had a professional body tasked with turning such tales into practical lifetime saving strategies.

Two major things happened in the second half of the 20th century that led to many millions in the UK easily accumulating fantastic amounts of wealth during their working lifetimes: widespread property ownership and widespread membership of defined benefit workplace pension schemes.

The effect this has had on people’s wealth means it is not surprising we have the thriving financial advice industry we do.

But it is concerning to think that the momentum the industry has built up thus far may stall as the changing realities of life in this country now take hold, with both home ownership and DB scheme membership in decline among younger-age cohorts.

While it is easy to bemoan the fact the housing market is so badly skewed and that employers no longer feel able to shoulder the risks associated with generous DB schemes, it is important that those responsible for advising others work harder than ever to help them understand what they can and should do about it.

Automatic enrolment will help a bit but at current levels of soft compulsion, it seems unlikely to be anything like the driver for lifetime thrift that happened in the last century, when employers were incentivised to provide pensions.

Indeed, for many, it may do nothing more than help fill the gaping hole in future pensions left by the demise of the state second pension.

Meanwhile, the housing market does not look like coming out of the doldrums any time soon. Yet, all the while, people’s lives are rushing on.

I do not know what the answer is, but standing around and moaning is not it.

For me, the financial services profession working alongside employers will be key.

Looking at how things are now, employers could turn out to be the hub through which the vast majority of normal people will be able to access cost-efficient advice and assistance. Indeed, it does not look likely to come from anywhere else.

Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits

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