JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Let’s raise a glass together to 30 fab years

I share a lot in common with Moneywise – personal finance, financial education, and a burning desire to demystify the money world

Jeff Prestridge
Wed, 07/29/2020 – 09:00

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Yet there is one connection between myself and this awesome magazine you may not be aware of – the year 1990. While some of you will remember 1990 for the reunification of Germany, the breaking up of the Soviet Union and England’s football team agonisingly losing on penalties to West Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup, I also look upon it as the year when my career as a personal finance journalist truly began. 

It was 1990 when I was appointed personal finance editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Now doing the same job, but at The Mail on Sunday, 2020 marks 30 years of editing the money section of a national newspaper.

Of course, 1990 marked the birth of Moneywise and 2020 is its 30th anniversary. To me and Moneywise, I raise a glass of Prosecco in celebration.

Looking back, it’s extraordinary how the world of personal finance has changed. Back in 1990, the internet was very much in embryonic form, so everything financial was paper-based – whether it was trading shares or obtaining details of the latest transactions on your bank account. 

For me, my baptism of fire back then was reporting on the tail-end of privatisations – readers loved them – and the machinations of Personal Equity Plans (the precursor to Individual Savings Accounts) and Tax-Free Special Savings Accounts. There was also the housing market crash, as interest rates remained in double digits, causing havoc with the ability of homeowners to make their monthly payments.

There were also a lot of scandals to occupy me, most notably roll-up equity release schemes, where the debt literally spiralled out of control, leaving loved ones or children to pick up the pieces. Financial crooks were also very much to the fore – I remember confronting one on his doorstep in North London. All rather nerve-wracking, especially when he invited me in. Obviously, I lived to tell the tale, though at the time I thought I might end up under some concrete structure on the M25.

As for my work as a journalist, any research I did was usually via the Telegraph’s library. Paper, essentially newspaper cuttings, ruled the waves. Looking back, it seems so archaic, but at the time it worked perfectly well.

So, has the personal finance world improved over the past 30 years? In many ways, it has. The internet has empowered so many to take control of their finances. Bank accounts can now be accessed and viewed at any time while investors can keep an eye on their pensions or investments through an online wealth platform. They can buy and sell investments with ease – everything from investment funds, stock market listed investment trusts, through to cheap and cheerful exchange traded funds. All under one umbrella.

The internet and the rise of the comparison website has also enabled savvy households to ensure the insurances they buy always represent best value for money.

We’ve seen mortgages and remortgages routinely processed online, while many of the ‘best’ savings accounts available are now internet based.

And we’ve witnessed the mobile phone revolution, allowing us to do a lot of the things we used to need a computer to do – and more besides. We can now wave our phone at a terminal in a coffee shop and it will make the payment for the extra hot skinny latte we have just ordered.

Yet, not everything is better in this new personal finance world. In embracing the internet, the financial services industry has become far more impersonal. We’ve seen it with the near death of the bank branch and also with the ‘industrialisation’ of customer service where speaking to a human being is often the last option provided.

The internet has also spawned a plague of fraudsters, determined to empty our bank accounts through the employment of a variety of scams – including phishing (email-based), smishing (text-based) and vishing (over the phone). It’s a plague that has yet to be controlled.   

With the exception of this fraud plague, is the personal finance marketplace safer than it was back in 1990? In many ways, yes. Savers and investors can now sleep at night knowing most of their wealth will be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (set up in 2001) if a bank, building society or investment firm goes bust. Many people with company pensions also now have protection via the Pension Protection Fund (set up in 2005) if their employer goes out of business, leaving a pension scheme with insufficient assets to meet all its obligations.

Yet, the money world remains far from perfect…So caveat emptor. Goodbye Moneywise – thank you for reading. 

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