OpinionJun 27 2018

My transition to positive financial commentator

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My transition to positive financial commentator

As a personal finance journalist, it is sometimes good to be reminded of how your work is perceived from the outside.

It does not always make for pleasant listening.

I recently spent a lovely Sunday in deepest Oxfordshire running the Steeple Barton Chase. It is an undulating 10-kilometre course, most of it across the private land of Philip and Jane Fleming – part of the Robert Fleming banking dynasty.

Although the run turned out to be 6.49 miles (10.44 kilometres) rather than the advertised 6.21 miles, I would not have missed it for the world. By the end I was totally exhausted and suitably flushed but exhilarated at the same time. In the rudest of good health.

Afterwards, I did not get the opportunity to walk around the 15 acre gardens belonging to the Fleming’s Barton Abbey – by appointment only – but by all accounts they are splendid. A picturesque lake, a walled garden, yew hedges and espalier fruit are just a few of the treats on offer.

My middle name has become negative. Jeffrey Negative Prestridge.

But I did manage to hobble my way down to the nearby Oxford Canal where a sumptuous picnic was enjoyed while narrow boats idled their way past the bulrushes, ready to negotiate the nearby lock.

My companion for the day was a financial adviser I have known for more than 20 years. Someone I see once in a blue moon. All convivial, especially when the bottle of Cremant was extracted from the cool bag she was carrying on her back, complete with glasses.

But as the bubbles started to flow and the organic salmon and cream cheese sandwiches were consumed, I was given a little bit of a dressing down. "Why are you always so negative as a personal finance commentator?" I was asked. ‘Is negativity in your DNA or do you just see no good in the financial services sector or, for that matter, anyone or anything? Why not praise once in a while? You might feel better as a result."

After the bubbles had gone up my nose – almost as a mark of respect for the comments aimed in my direction – she got me thinking.  Am I negative for the sake of being negative? Am I just a clone of The Daily Mail, always complaining and picking fault with everyone?

The more I contemplated the more I realised that the financial adviser was spot on. My middle name has become negative. Jeffrey Negative Prestridge.

She mentioned the last article she had read that had been penned by my good self – an attack on the bloated executive pay enjoyed by the country’s building society bosses and in particular the £1m plus remuneration package awarded to Skipton boss David Cutter for his work during 2017.

She did not even refer to The Mail on Sunday comment piece that had been published on the day we met – presumably because she had had better things to do with her life that very morning before meeting me than read more negative views.

A shrewd move because I had used my newspaper column to lambast the board of Nationwide Building Society for awarding its boss Joe Garner a £2.3m package in the year to April this year.

Indeed, I had gone on to implore Nationwide customers to register their disapproval by voting against the directors’ remuneration at next month’s annual general meeting.

And only that morning, just before I had got on the X90 coach to whisk me off from London to Oxford and then the uneven paths of Steeple Barton, I had checked out the 2017 remuneration paid to Lindsay Sinclair, boss of NFU Mutual – a little behind Mr Garner at £2.1m but an inflation busting 17.3 per cent increase on the year before.

All deserving of a public airing? Or is it just journalism based part on envy? I am not sure. Indeed, someone tweeted me a great question in response to my Nationwide article. "So how much is Mr Garner worth?"

I genuinely do not know.

What I do know is that in future I will try to seek out more of the positives.

Rather than simply target Mr Garner’s bounty, I will enthuse about the customer-centric business that he has helped build at Nationwide – a brand currently unrivalled in banking circles.

The same goes for Skipton and NFU Mutual, both good solid businesses trying to do most things right and continuing to support communities that many of the banks have long since given up on.

Of course, such positivity will extend to the financial planning industry. Rather than simply look out for the misdemeanours, I will be doing more to promote its virtues.

Despite what my financial adviser friend may say I think I am quite friendly towards financial advisers and planners. But maybe I should try harder.

No doubt I will be told how I am faring in this transition from negative to positive financial commentator when I return to Steeple Barton this time next year and attempt to better my race time.

If I have not ‘improved’ I would not be surprised if the Cremant is poured over my head in protest. Jeffrey Positive Prestridge.

Jeff Prestridge is personal finance editor of the Mail on Sunday