Simon Read: Don’t yearn for the golden years of finance – they never really existed

The People’s Champion

One thing I’ve discovered as I get older is that there’s never been a golden age.

Sure, wearing rose-tinted glasses can help people imagine that things were better back in the day than they are now, but it’s seldom the case. For every way life has seemed to get worse, there are generally lots of ways that it has improved.

Take banking. It’s easy to hark back to the golden days when your bank manager was your friend.

There were, of course, cosy armies of Captain Mainwarings who were happy to take the time to talk to you and help you sort out your finances. And you’d be happy to share a convivial glass of sherry with them  at Yuletide.

Now, as we all know, bankers are only interested in finding ways to flog us expensive and useless insurance to line their fat pockets.

But that’s just not true. Bank staff are generally as helpful as they’ve ever been. It’s their bosses who force them to flog expensive loans and insurance that are the problem. In my experience frontline bank workers are happy to help you if they can.

What has changed in banking is the introduction of technology, which has hugely improved the way we control our finances.

I could start by mentioning cash machines. Before they were introduced we had to queue up inside branches to withdraw money.

Even when I first got a cash card, it was for a set amount – a fiver or tenner – and was swallowed by the machine and sent on to you a few days later.

Now? We can get access to as much of the cash as we have in our accounts whenever and wherever we need it – from tens of thousands of locations all over the world.

But then, we don’t really need to carry cash, do we? Because we can conveniently pay for everything on plastic cards. Or use our phones to pay online, or even transfer money to friends in the pub or a restaurant.

Technology has also been a massive boon to investors. No longer do we have to call a broker and hope he or she is sober enough to make the trade we’ve requested.

Now we can make the deal ourselves  online – and at a fraction of the cost. That speed and low-cost convenience ensures we can be fleet enough to profit from fast-breaking news, or flexible enough to switch in and out of shares or funds.

What about borrowers? They’ve never had it so good. Interest rates have been at a record low for some years now meaning mortgages have hardly ever been more affordable.

And even if the deal we’re on gets a little uncompetitive, we can simply go online to find a better one and then switch fairly easily and painlessly.

Loans, too, are at record levels, which means borrowing for a car or holiday, for instance, has never been much cheaper.

When it comes to savers the position changes a little. This year has offered no solace whatsoever for those with nest eggs.

Frankly, millions of us are getting such paltry returns on our deposit accounts that it’s hardly worth stashing any cash in them.

In fact, as inflation ravages the real returns we get, just by letting our nest eggs moulder in a savings account we’re actually losing money.

But have times every really been much better for savers? The days when you could look forward to getting  10 per cent or more on your savings were at a time when it cost up to  15 per cent to borrow for a mortgage.

The differential is not much different now. If you’re free of all borrowing and therefore think that you’re penalised by the paltry rates you’re being paid on your savings, then consider this: being debt-free is the best position of all.

If you don’t owe money to anyone then you have the freedom to do with your money what you wish. That’s a stage we’re all striving to reach.

And there’s no doubt that interest rates will start rising soon. Maybe not in the next few months, but certainly at some stage this year.

So don’t talk to me about the golden age of the 60s, 70s, 80s or whenever. In many ways we’re living in a golden age of finance right now and, looking ahead, things are set to improve.

If you are struggling with debt it may be a little harder to be positive, but taking control of your finances and budgeting carefully will help you achieve a happy financial future.

s.read@independent.co.uk ; twitter.com/@simonnread 

News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine