Middle Britain flocks to 'safe house' NS&I

The Northern Rock crisis was one more boost for Treasury-backed products, writes Julian Knight, although security can come at a price

National Savings & Investments (NS&I), the Treasury-backed savings body, is riding a wave of renewed investor interest and has seen a surge in deposits since the Northern Rock crisis broke last month.

Jonathan Akerman of NS&I says the Treasury's backing is its "unique selling point": "Whenever there is a perceived risk, people come to us."

Independent financial advisers (IFAs) point out that NS&I's resurgence goes back further than the Northern Rock bail-out.

"National Savings has definitely upped its game," says Susan Hannums, savings manager at IFA AWD Chase de Vere. In particular, Ms Hannums likes the look of the National Savings tax-free products – its Direct individual savings account (ISA) and index-linked certificates. "The ISA is a fantastic account. It pays 6.3 per cent and is very simple with no hidden nasties," she says.

The index-linked certificates also offer attractive returns. "The five-year certificate pays 1.35 per cent above the retail price index," says Ms Hannums. "At present, this adds up to a tax-free return of 5.45 per cent. For higher-rate taxpayers, in particular, this is good."

But the big thing for many investors with NS&I, whose offerings also include premium bonds, seems to be its ultra-safe reputation. In addition, NS&I products can be purchased easily and conveniently at the post office, by phone or online.

However, there is a price to be paid for security and convenience, says David Kuo, head of personal finance at advice website Motley Fool: "Some of National Savings' offerings have improved but many still lag behind what the high street has to offer." He cites NS&I's easy access account, which pays 2.6 per cent on balances of between £100 and £1,000. "This is substantially below the best on the market, which is an Anglo-Irish bank account paying 6.1 per cent."

Nevertheless, NS&I is pulling in the crowds. "Twenty years ago National Savings was there for elderly risk-averse savers and children," says Jonathan Fry of IFA Jonathan Fry & Co. "What's happened is that thrifty, middle-class, middle-Britain people now view NS&I as a viable option."

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