Opinion  

Fortune favours those who look to the future

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

Well this is it. After 13 years of sharing my thoughts with you on a weekly basis, I have decided to hang up my keyboard.

During those years, a lot has improved in the world of personal finance, but some things sadly remain unchanged.

Banks still appear to wield far too much influence over government policy and the regulators.

Internet banking

Take internet banking. On one hand it can make consumers’ lives far simpler by allowing swift payments and easy management of our money.

On the other hand, though, it can seem like a Wild West territory where the vulnerable can lose thousands through fraud, while banks are allowed to abnegate responsibility and offer little help or recompense to their victims.

TSB’s behaviour throughout its recent computer problems illustrates this perfectly, with victims claiming to have been left hanging on for hours while trying to report their lost money.

Yet the regulator offers little in the way of support and seems far too willing to listen to the pleas of the hapless bank.

Financial education

Another area that has seen far too little progress is personal finance education. There’s been talk and some teaching around the margins, but still no attempt to make it a mainstream subject.

Yet, second to a good command of English, surely a strong, workable knowledge of arithmetic and money is the most important tool that we can equip children with as they embark on adult life.

Financial advice

What of financial advice? Well we have seen plenty of changes for the better as standards have risen and charging has become more transparent.

But there remains the issue of the millions who cannot afford to access independent advice.

I did not weep a single tear for the end of so-called advice churned out via banks and building societies. That was not advice.

It was often little more than a high-pressure sales operation delivering massive payments to banks while staff were placed under intolerable strain and had their morals stretched by questionable incentive schemes.

Customers’ financial well being was never the priority and we are well rid of such operations.

Pensions

Perhaps pensions is the area where we have seen greatest change.

I had, for years, been loading my personal pension with every spare penny I had, but feared I would be forced to waste my savings on an annuity.

It was a gamble. Would the government choose to abolish annuities before I was forced to hand my money to an insurance company in exchange for a minimal income?

Then the unbelievable happened. The Liberal Democrats became coalition partners in government and we got a pension minister who was interested in and understood pensions.

Steve Webb invited us to buy a Lamborghini. To my knowledge no one has, but millions will be grateful to him for treating us like adults and allowing us to choose how we use the money we have spent a lifetime saving.