OpinionDec 18 2015

You can’t make things simple by adding rules

Search supported by

People are stupid. I don’t mean that to be as insulting or derogatory as it no doubt sounds. I am a person and include myself in the sweeping generalisation.

I am horribly aware of my own capability to do something stupid at any given moment, as anybody who has seen me driving will attest.

Nowhere is our collective stupidity more apparent – or more dangerous – than when it comes to money.

Every week a new batch of research highlights the gulf between what we should be doing and what we actually are (or, more likely, are not).

There is no longer any doubt that an advice gap exists, now the only debate relates to how many people have fallen into it.

At a recent conference, Joe Lane of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) began to quantify the problem, saying that 49 per cent of UK households – not individuals – have less than £5,000 in savings, including pensions; 25 per cent have less than nothing once debts are taken into account.

The fact the majority are in a mess is not news. Nor, sadly, is the fact that they are largely clueless as to how to get themselves out of it.

We would be better served just going back to basics and concentrating on keeping things genuinely simple and comprehensible.

The CAB research said 20 per cent admitted they lacked confidence in making financial decisions. And that’s just those that admit it. You can bet there are countless more blundering on, oblivious to – or in denial of – their own ineptitude.

The belated arrival of financial education in schools will change things, but a reversal of the current ubiquitous ignorance will take generations.

And what are we supposed to do about everybody who has already left school? Do we just write off all those between the ages of 18 and 65, conceding that it is probably too late to do anything about their inevitable retirement shortfall?

There should be a real opportunity for our industry to help these people and achieve a holy grail of actually making some cash while being genuinely valuable.

Their lack of understanding or confidence should be no obstacle either. The great American showman PT Barnum once said something along the lines of “Nobody ever made a million by overestimating their audience’s intelligence.”

But instead, the personal finance industry’s response is to further alienate these people, too busy trying to show off how clever it is to bother to cater to them.

Just 20 years (although it feels like a lifetime) ago the industry was built around with-profits products.