I went to a party a few weeks ago and, as I was introduced to a fellow guest, he naturally asked me what I did for a living. “I write about personal finance for young people.”
“Wow,” he said, pausing for a few seconds to think of a polite response. In the end, all he could do was give me a quizzical look and say: “Tough gig.”
Those two words made me stop in my tracks. No admiration or approval was forthcoming on this occasion. No gold stars or attempt to praise a “good effort”. Normally, those who hear about my strange choice of career assure me that I am doing a Good Thing. After all, who does not believe in educating young people about their rights, galvanizing them to become more discerning consumers and more responsible citizens in the long run? And everybody can see why a worthwhile discussion about the competing pressures and financial complications facing young people should be instigated by…well, a young person, someone who understands what they are going through and ‘gets’ their mentality. Surely it is the demonstration of solidarity and empathy, rather than the remote and simplistic preaching that often characterizes messages from the financial sector, which gets young people on side? Only when that demographic is alive to this whole topic that we can help them to fight against rampant materialism and tricksy product providers, and they can start to demand higher standards and fairer products from our financial industry.
My fellow party guest might not have realized it, but he hit a raw nerve. His earnest reply may not seem to reveal an earth-shattering truth, but I was forced to look into the abyss for the first time and confront the possible flaws of my seemingly worthy vocation. Was I too idealistic? What if the financial empowerment of young people was a lost cause right from the start? What if I had been wrong, all this time, in assuming that my generation would be crying out for more personal information and support on financial issues?
Maybe I am feeling extra sensitive as a result of hearing about the meteoric rise of video bloggers, a crew of internet superstars who have attracted millions of followers and are set to earn millions of pounds (I will explain why shortly). The content they are producing - excessively-detailed beauty tutorials, silly stunts and virtual diary entries - is being lapped up by teenagers and students, but also people in their twenties. People who are earning, spending, borrowing, paying taxes, deciding how to use their (often limited) funds.
I should also add that vloggers have hit upon an ingenious way to make their hijinks pay. Many accept payments from companies to talk about all kinds of products, from lipgloss to chocolate biscuits, and have not always been clear about whether their enthusiasm for a particular brand is genuine or triggered by a backhand, according to the Advertising Standards Authority.