Nic Cicutti column

The surveys that come with new financial products miss the point
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Three-quarters of credit card holders would rather pay a lower interest rate on their card debts than receive "reward" points from their issuer. Who says so? Well, surprise, surprise, this nugget came from a poll carried out by a card issuer offering a credit card with lower interest rates.

Never mind that the majority of people rarely, if ever, go into debt with their credit card. For them reward points are a bonus. Meanwhile, three-quarters of card holders are afraid to go shopping with real money. Or is it three-fifths, or four-ninths? Who cares?

Originating that scintillating research this week was a bank pushing its own credit card. Is it really true that fear is driving us all towards a cashless society? Take a sneak look at the till in your local supermarket, then come back and tell me about it.

There's more: 95 per cent of the British public agreed with the proposition that their investments should help rather than harm the world. The poll was carried out on behalf of a firm which - oddly enough - offers a range of ethical investments.

Why are we personal finance journalists inundated by upwards of half a dozen similar mindless "opinion polls" each week?

There are a number of possible reasons. The first is that my colleagues and I are so stupid that any old rubbish will appear in our pages. By and large I discount that theory.

A second possible reason is that PR companies are themselves so stupid that they think we will fall for the dross they send us. I am more inclined towards that possibility.

Probably most compelling, however, is another argument. It is that the vast majority of financial products are the same. Variations are so minor that companies are forced into increasingly shrill attempts to sell their wares.

Ironically, when better products do appear, people flock to them. Look at Virgin's low-cost PEP. Or Direct Line, which led the way in car and home insurance. Or Nationwide, which cut the cost of its variable home loans last year and picked up business.

Or Sainsbury's, the supermarket chain, which offers a simple, no-frills savings account. Or Alliance & Leicester, which has just launched a credit card offering money-back discounts when you use it. There are other examples but they are far too few.

If these companies were to spend less time thinking up nonsensical ideas and concentrating on the simpler things in life, my life, and yours too, would be a lot better.

Dedicated readers of these pages will recall Paula Martin, the willing "victim" of our first financial makeover four weeks ago, who had been mis-sold a personal pension.

After the story appeared, Paula was offered compensation for her trouble from one company. Now the second one involved, Lincoln National, has been in touch to say her case will be resolved by them too.

A happy ending for one victim of the pensions mis-selling scandal. Now there are only 500,000 more cases to go throughout the rest of the industry. It's enough to keep us in financial makeovers for another 9,615 years.

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