I believe in the maxim that you get what you pay for in life. Take food, wine and clothes, for instance. In all these cases, it's nearly always worth spending a bit extra for quality. But there is a line to be drawn beyond which what I am being asked to pay for is, quite frankly, just marketing hype.
Banks and insurers are increasingly crossing this line with their offerings. Take so-called packaged current accounts. In essence, these are fee-charging accounts that bundle in supposedly extra services – normally just "access" to a salesperson who will then try to flog you more products – with some pared-down travel or car breakdown insurance that you may forget to claim against (because at the time you have need of it, you may not remember you have it). Even if you do, the level of cover will often be inferior to that provided by standalone insurance products.
The truth is, you can get a current account for free and use the money you save in fees to shop around for the right insurance as and when you need it.
When looking for car insurance a few years back, I remember one call centre worker trying to persuade me that I should accept their quote – which was double the cheapest around – because it gave me "free" wind- screen cover. Patently, it wasn't free. Likewise, a private medical insurance company once told me that if, as one of its policyholders, I was admitted to hospital, it would arrange to send me flowers. Just imagine the joy that would bring. They might as well have addressed the bouquet to Mr Billy-no-mates!
The country's biggest retailer, Tesco, launched its Finest range of home insurance last week. Yes, you guessed it – what's a good enough marketing concept to get people to pay £1.50 for a loaf of bread is now being applied to sell contents and buildings cover.
Breathlessly, Tesco tells me that its Finest policies include identity-fraud assistance (see page 16 for more on this type of cover), as well as a "concierge" service, with people on call to help me arrange my holidays, find a cleaner, book theatre tickets and source gifts for friends and relatives. If I have a flood, they will find me a plumber.
It's like a glimpse into the world of Roman Abramovich. All these benefits, says Tesco, are worth £180 a month but can be mine if only I agree to pay a little more for my home insurance and become a Finest customer. I think I'll be sticking to the top-of-the-range bread, thanks.