As is standard when meeting new people, I often have to tell them what my job is. ‘Financial journalist’ is often enough to satisfy them, but more often than that, they want to know exactly what I write about.
I mumble something about “pensions, mortgages, protection, investment…”. Sometimes this brings up more questions, but nine times out of 10, it just stops the conversation in its tracks.
I try to clear their minds of macroeconomics and the supposedly glamorous world of global finance. “Um, you know, stuff average humans have,” I say, before being confronted with the reality that no, most of us will probably make it quite a long way through our lives (or even all our lives) without coming face to face with a financial adviser. Apart from me, obviously.
My friends and acquaintances range in age from mid-twenties to around 40. Pretty much all of us have jobs, and of those who have jobs, many of those are in ‘the professions’. And yet we are all, it seems, thoroughly cut off from the world of financial advice.
If you look at the list of financial services I tell them I write about at work, it’s hard to communicate how any of those products will ever relate to them. We’re the generation that’s accepted we won’t own homes – even many of my married friends don’t have a mortgage. Pensions have only become a ‘real thing’ since auto-enrolment, and even then it’s something we barely engage with. The thought that anyone would have enough spare income to make an ‘investment’ is laughable.
Something has gone wrong somewhere. Maybe it’s a lack of education around the value of financial advice, or maybe we really are a lost generation who slipped through the financial cracks. If only we were in a position to need advice on fixed-term or floating mortgages, or needed to know whether to invest in Asia ex-Japan or emerging markets. Advice, we feel, is for other people.
Surely there must be a way to reconcile the two: the feeling that we don’t have enough income to do more than scrape by, and the gaping lack of financial knowledge that can only be plugged up by that of an adviser.