William Kay: The Hindsight Club is gloating

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The Independent Online

The crucifixion of Standard Life has become something of a fashionable sport in recent years. This has much to do with its previous decades of success, which has spawned glee at its apparent downfall. Critics have concentrated on the threat to two of its cornerstones: equity investment and mutuality.

Investing in shares has served Standard's policyholders richly over the past 40 years, while its less adventurous bretheren clung to gilts. Now gilts look smart and equities are mired in uncertainty, but these things can change with surprising speed.

And the Hindsight Club has been in full swing, gloating over Standard's outdated devotion to being owned by its customers. The prospect of a windfall profit makes it likely that Standard will be part of a bigger group within a few years. But policyholders may find that Standard's distinctive flavour is stifled by the corporate culture of a parent.

* This week's fine of £1.25m on Bank of Scotland fills me with gloom. Not because I am either a BoS customer or a shareholder in its parent, HBOS, but because of what it will mean for bank and building society account holders everywhere.

The fine was for the sin of not keeping "proper records of customer identification". Yes, it's our old friend money laundering.

Tales are legion of customers who have been with a bank for 20 years or more being asked for a utility bill, driving licence, or passport to prove who they are, all to catch the one in a million who might be wanting to wash terrorist money through their account.

The FSA's money-laundering rules will catch only the most amateurish villain, but they have bred in the timid banking community a box-ticking mentality based on self-preservation rather than making customers' lives easier. BoS, you'll be glad to hear,has taken "prompt and effective remedial action to resolve this problem," code for even more self-serving bureaucracy. And (groan) others will surely follow suit.

* The only type of gold is fool's gold, because there are too many factors at play to make forecasting its price much better than guesswork. But, thanks largely to the fall in the dollar, the dollar-denominated price of the metal has hit new highs. This should put investors off, but, having risen so far, paradoxically makes it more attractive to many in the hope that it will rise further.

But David Franklin, director of Retail Funds at Christows, the private client portfolio manager and a chart buff, has studied the runes and is convinced we are about to see a collapse from the present $420 (£229.50) an ounce to $365 in the next couple of months.

Mr Franklin puts this down to a "fourth wave triangle." If it happens, and I am placing no bets, it will imply a major upheaval in world markets.


William Kay is Personal Finance Editor of 'The Independent'

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