Personal Finance: Our guide to surviving the crash

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A WEEK ago, Brian Tora, our regular columnist, warned that - barely a few months after their near-meltdown - stockmarkets were in danger of overheating again.

Borrowing the phrase "irrational exhuberance" from Alan Greenspan to describe the stockmarket's upwards rush, Brian's verdict was: "If it goes on like this, when the correction comes it will be swift and dramatic."

Barely a week later, his comment has come back to haunt us. The latest news on world stockmarkets, together with an analysis of what the underlying causes of the Brazil-inspired panic are, can be found in The Independent's news sections. But what does this require us to do as investors? To help, in this week's section we are publishing the first of what will be regular surveys on investment and end-of-tax-year financial planning.

Of course, product providers will all be aiming to shift their final season's worth of PEPs right now, while readers want somewhere to place their cash. But we go further, and take a look beyond the final-PEP hoopla. For instance, on page 6, Abigail Montrose writes about the benefits of "pound-cost averaging" (I wish I'd taken her advice in March last year when considering my own investments). And on the same page, Tony Lyons looks at whether it makes sense to switch out of so-called "dog" funds.

For future surveys, we would be interested to hear of other investment areas you would like to see us covering.

A COUPLE of people came into the office the other day to talk to me about a new mortgage company, which is about to launch in the next few weeks. It is called Promise, part of the financial-services giant Credit Suisse, and aims to focus exclusively on the re-mortgage market.

The new company hasn't yet finalised the rates it will charge on the mortgages it offers. But it pledges to do away with one of the bugbears faced by scores of would-be borrowers.

This is the process by which, in return for a seemingly attractive rate, the punter is progressively fleeced by a succession of different charges, including admin, survey and legal fees, not to mention completion fees, compulsory insurances and - if you go through a broker - extra charges if you don't take out one of their much-touted PEPs or endowments. By the end, you wonder whether the switch to a cheaper loan was worth it.

Promise also pledges a quote in six minutes, an offer in nine minutes and completion in 21 days.

As it happens, I've just applied for a loan. I won't embarass the company concerned by naming it. Suffice to say that it recently launched a highly flexible and cheap variable-rate loan.

This is a company whose executive split their sides laughing at the poor service offered at Egg's launch. Yet my application for a loan ("we can give you an answer in 10 minutes") suffered an unnecessary delay. I'm pleased to say that this was resolved within 24 hours. But the whole episode has left me wondering about the notion of "service". Are companies falling into the trap of promising what they just can't deliver simply because they think that's what we want to hear?

Personally, I would far rather they took down all the details, promised to get back to me within a realistic time and did so - even if it means waiting longer. Instead, I now expect to hear from a company that "promises" an answer the minute I call them.

AND FINALLY, after weeks of delay (poor service from me, I'm afraid), we announce the winner of our first Stepping Stones competition, for the most interesting house move to be published in The Independent. So, congratulations to Wendy Johns of Banbury, for the heart-warming story we published in October of how she was prepared to forego speculative advantage in order to live in a place of her liking. She will receive a cheque for pounds 100. The new deadline for Stepping Stones entries is 31 March, so keep the letters coming in (see page 11 for details).

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