Julian Knight: All hail the recession for making finance sexy
Sunday 11 January 2009
'What do you do, then?" It's the inevitable dinner party question. When I reply that I'm a journalist, I'm often greeted with a raised eyebrow or an "ooh, that must be interesting". In the kudos stakes, it's a good job to have: I suppose for an instant the questioner imagines that I spend my time dodging bullets in a war zone or exposing the shenanigans of the rich and famous.
But sadly, the reality hasn't lived up to that fantasy in the past. And in response to my confession that that I write about money, faces have crashed and eyes glazed over – perhaps they thought I was going to follow them around all evening talking about pensions.
But the credit crunch and the recession have changed all that. Now faces actually brighten up. Money and the saving of it is the topic of our time. Last week, credit reference agency Experian found that 53 per cent of us are now more likely to talk about money with friends, family, even strangers – breaking an age-old British taboo. Only 53 per cent? Ways to save money are now de rigueur – replacing too-depressing property prices in the dinner party lexicon.
If you want proof, look at the best- selling books. They're about spending less, living a more frugal life. The top cookery books are pegged to thrift and old-fashioned (cheap) dishes.
However, this new austerity isn't just a matter of shopping at Lidl or rediscovering the magic of liver; it's bringing about a renaissance in our money know-how. Gradually, people are getting to grips with their savings accounts and mortgages. This in turn means they are more switched on to the tactics used by banks to screw as much cash as they can out of us. Amid scandalously high and anti-competitive mortgage arrangement fees and fly-by-night bonuses on savings accounts, people are becoming more watchful and financially literate.
Part of the remit of the Financial Services Authority – I don't have to tell you that this is the City regulator; you already know that – is to boost money education. I have been to meetings at the FSA where it has unveiled painstaking research concluding that, as far as money goes, we're all a bunch of idiots. Its solution? A combination of yet more surveys and deathly dull consumer websites in which no one has any interest.
I suppose that when it releases research in a few months showing that Britons now know more about their cash, the FSA will claim victory in its war on financial ignorance. But the truth is that we as a nation are doing it for ourselves and this will have huge benefits for our futures – as well as ensuring more dinner invites for me.
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