The curious incident of the dog and the auto-enrolled pension contributions

You remember the curious incident of the dog in the night-time?  Of course you do.  (“But Holmes, the dog did nothing in the night-time!”  “That, Watson, was the curious Incident!.”)

Well, we’re now just about three weeks away from the first hike in employers’ and employees’ contributions to auto-enrolled pensions, and the dog is doing nothing in the night-time again.  The silence about this imminently-forthcoming event is deafening – and this despite the fact that the increases are far from insignificant (employers’ minimum contributions doubling from 1% to 2%, and employees’ tripling from 1% to 3%).

No media coverage of the story is listed in the first two pages on Google, and indeed the first three listings all come from that legend of search engine optimisation The Pensions Regulator, which seems to be the only dog ready to go in for a bit of light barking.

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, believing that unexpected events (or absences of events) are usually better explained by cock-up than by conspiracy.  But I do wonder a little bit if some commentators may have been gently discouraged from commentating, on the grounds that if people don’t notice what’s happening to the pound in their pay-packet they’re less likely to start opting out.

With another round of similar contribution increases due in a year’s time, and with incomes still falling in real terms, I don’t really think this radio silence approach is tenable over the next couple of years.  I think we will see steadily-growing levels of opt-outs unless or until we can convince people that contributing really matters, and even in times like these it’s vitally important to take the hit on take-home pay.

And having made that point in favour of contribution increases, I’ll end this blog before I hear those Discouragers knocking on my Camden Town door.

At last, I think Tom Baigrie might have sold me on life assurance

Anyone who knows Tom – and a lot of people do – will agree that there is no more passionate advocate in the cause of life assurance.  He makes the case for it morning, noon and night, and at least once a week he makes it in his column in the trade paper Money Marketing.

To be honest, most of the time it’s water off a duck’s back as far as I’m concerned.  I have nothing at all against life assurance, but I’m not passionately in favour of it either.  On the one hand it doesn’t cost much, especially for those young families with children that Tom’s always going on about, but on the other hand that’s because most of them don’t die at an early age.

But Tom’s column in today’s Money Marketing has jolted my indifference.  In it, Tom has unveiled a New Statistic – to the effect that one in 29 children will lose a parent before reaching the age of majority – which, I’m pretty sure, is the age of 18.

I’m no statistician, but that strikes me as a lot.  Especially since, as I see it, the reality must be worse – if one in 29 loses a parent, then arguably since there are on average nearly two children per family, that must mean not too far short of two children out of 29 will lose a parent before reaching the age of majority.  That would be around one out of 15.  (Something tells me there’s something wrong with this analysis, but I can’t see what it is.)

Anyway, or either way, one out of 29 or one out of 15 is enough to worry quite seriously about.  I’ve been turning the figure over in my mind since I read it this morning, trying to find something wrong with it.  Could it be, for example, that the unlucky children in question are the ones with the incredibly much older and more decrepit dads going round the course for the second or even third time?   Or could it be that when the statistic refers to “losing” a parent, it just means “mislaying” – getting separated on a trip round Asda, say, and being reunited at the checkouts?  But my theories have been getting more and more fantastical.

It’s still not entirely clear to me that a wodge of cash is an acceptable substitute for a parent,  but I can see that it helps.  So, all in all, Tom’s new statistic tells me that actually, the case for life assurance is a good deal stronger than I had ever realised.

So all in all, I’m convinced –  or very nearly.  Just before I change an opinion of a good twenty years’ standing, I wouldn’t mind knowing where that statistic came from.

In hindsight, I preferred it when robo-advisers didn’t advertise

Probably the riff to which I’ve returned most often in this blog in recent years – my Smoke On The Water, my Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – is the one that goes “None of these trendy new robo-advisers is ever going to acquire a worthwhile number of customers unless they start spending some worthwhile money on advertising.”

Several of them are now spending quite a bit of money on advertising, and I think I was happier when they weren’t.  The trouble is that the advertising is a) terrible, b) all the same, c) lacking in any kind of appealing call to action and d) based on an entirely false hypothesis.

It’s clear that there is now a default expanding-the-investment-market campaign concept, which involves pictures of kooky-looking people (men with ponytails, women with unnatural hair colours, men and women with tats and piercings) and headlines saying in one way or another that they’re now finding investing delightfully easy/accessible/cheap.

But the false hypothesis on which so much of this market is rashly pinning its hopes is expressed more plainly in another current campaign, for another firm whose name I can’t remember.  It’s a tube card showing a pair of remarkably large and ugly trainers among several pairs of polished business shoes, and the headline says (more or less) Now the jeans and the T-shirts can invest along with the suits and the ties.  Clearly the idea here is that thanks to the launch of this funky new robo-adviser, whatever it’s called, the world of investment is now, at last, accessible to younger, funkier, less starchy people who previously felt excluded and unwelcome.

I’m sure there are a few people with whom this message resonates, but I don’t think there are many.  The main reason why people who don’t invest don’t invest, if you see what I mean, is that they don’t want to invest.  As a way of encouraging them to start doing so, offering them an easy, low-cost-welcoming online service is about as likely to be effective as offering me easy, low-cost, welcoming ballroom dancing lessons.  It’s true that I perceive the world of ballroom dancing schools as difficult, quite expensive and not very welcoming, but those aren’t really the reason I don’t engage with it.  The reason I don’t engage with it is that the whole idea of ballroom dancing fills me with horror, misery, suicidal despair and existential dread.  I would rather cut my legs off with rusty scissors than put them to work on learning the steps for the pasa doble or the cha cha cha.  In short, persuading me that I have easy, low-cost, welcoming dancing schools available is a necessary but in itself spectacularly insufficient step towards changing my behaviour.

In writing all this, the thought flickers through my mind that perhaps I’m terribly, disastrously wrong.  Perhaps millions of people with pony tails, pink hair and body piercings are longing for a service accessible and cheap enough to give them an entry into the world of UK Smaller Companies and Strategic Global Corporate Bonds.

In many ways, I’d love to be wrong about it.  But I really don’t think I am.

Why prognostications of an end to financial jargon are jejune

Ha ha, very funny, a blog about jargon with some really difficult words in the headline.  (As you, ahem, already know, “prognostications” = predictions, “jejune” = naive or simplistic.)

In the ordinary way, we get rid of difficult words by doing what I did just then – replacing them with easier words.   In the book (did I mention the book?), the example I give is the rather lovely word “crepuscular.”  Not many people know it, but the problem is solved as soon as you know it means “relating to twilight.”  Immediately, you know a whole lot of things about “crepuscular” – what it means, what it looks like, when it happens, why it happens (more or less).

Contrast that with an unfamiliar word from the language of investment jargon.  To make my point, I’m choosing a tough one:  “equalisation.”  There’s absolutely no way that any better-known phrase or synonym will cast light on this.  There isn’t one.  The word describes an aspect of the workings of investment funds, which you’re never going to understand unless you learn practically a whole book’s-worth of stuff about how investment funds work (starting, for many people, with an explanation of what investment funds actually are).

Here’s an attempt from a website (actually Neil Woodford’s) to explain the term.

“Equalisation is a mechanism used by open-ended collective investment vehicles to ensure that income distributions from a fund can be the same for all shareholders, regardless of when the shares were purchased.

By way of background, funds that distribute income do so regularly – sometimes yearly, sometimes half-yearly, quarterly or monthly. In the case of the LF Woodford Equity Income Fund, income is distributed quarterly. When a fund pays out income, it does so by going ‘ex-dividend‘ (XD). Income that is received by the fund from its underlying portfolio holdings is reflected in that fund’s net asset value until it goes ex-dividend, at which point the income is removed from the fund’s net asset value and is paid to shareholders on the pay date on a per share basis, typically several weeks after the ex-dividend date.

If an investor has bought shares in the fund since the last XD date, he/she has not held the shares for the full period over which income is being received by the fund and so those shares will be grouped separately (usually known as group 2 shares, whereas all other shares are in group 1). When it comes to payment of income on those shares, they will be entitled to the same payment per share as any other shares in the fund, but not all of the payment will be treated as income for tax purposes – part of the payment will be treated as a return of capital. This is known as an ‘equalisation’ payment, because it equalises the per share amount that is paid on group 2 shares with that paid on group 1.  Once group 2 shares have passed their first XD date, they become group 1 shares.”

I can’t find the words to express how utterly unhelpful this definition is to most of us.  Within a dozen words most people’s heads have disappeared below the surface, and they never come back up again.  So it’s “a mechanism used by open-ended collective investment vehicles,” is it?  Great.  That really helps me.  Not.

I’m not saying this to beat up the Woodford website.  I’ve had a go at explaining equalisation once or twice, and I don’t think I did any better.  My point is that often, in financial services, a single word of incomprehensible jargon is in fact the tip of a vast iceberg of incomprehension, so that if you want to make sense of the word you have to melt the whole bloody iceberg.  And, of course, long before you complete that enormous task, everyone will have left your website in search of something – anything! – more rewarding.

In the case of this particular example, you can argue that people really don’t need to know – that millions of people invest perfectly happily in funds without any understanding of equalisation, or indeed any idea of the existence of the concept.  But there are hundreds of other terms that are, or at least seem to be, much more important if people are going to make half-decent investment decisions.  (Pound-cost averaging is always a horrible one to have to explain.  Or rebalancing.  Or index tracking, to people who don’t know what an index is.)

Even after 30 years of writing this stuff, I don’t really have an answer.  Basically, the choice you have if you want to de-jargonify is to be either incomprehensibly brief, or unreadably long, which isn’t really much of a choice.

So, I’m sorry if this blog has turned out to be a bit of a waste of time.  But on the upside, at least you now know what “crepuscular” means.



Why I don’t think gambling is part of financial services

Did I mention that I’ve been writing a book lately?  Or that it’s called No Small Change and is available for advance order on Amazon?  Oh, I did, did I?  Sorry about that.

Writing a book makes you think about things so that you have something to say when you write about them.  One of the things that my co-author Anthony Thomson and I had to think about was the question of what should, and what shouldn’t, be included within our definition of “retail financial services.”  And without more than a few moments’ deliberation, we decided that gambling – whether in casinos, on sporting events or on who’ll replace Theresa May and when – was out.

If you think harder about it, this was a questionable decision.  As consumers in group discussions never tire of telling us, perceptually gambling exists at the right-hand end of a financial services spectrum which has mainstream investing roughly in the middle or towards the middle-right, and building society savings over to the left.  And in fact there are other things over towards that right-hand end which are undoubtedly gambles, but which are undoubtedly financial services too – things like spread betting, CFDs and these scary-sounding newish things called Binary Options.  At the end of the day, they’re all about putting money in and hopefully, though not probably, getting more money out.

So why did AT and I take seconds to exclude gambling from the book?

I guess partly it’s that gambling doesn’t present itself in any way as a part of the financial services world.  Gambling as seen on TV, at any rate, presents itself overwhelmingly as part of the world of sport – presented by football commentators and pundits, and featuring people, mostly young men plus Ray Winstone,either playing or watching the game and occasionally doing things on their phones while other youngish men plus Ray Winstone shout at us on the soundtrack.

But as financial services marketing professionals, AT and I aren’t taken in by this determination to break the category rules.  Plenty of other brands do that – how about animated meerkats? – but is still part of the financial services world.

No, I think the reason we made the decision to leave it out was simply that we hate it, don’t want anything to do with it and definitely don’t want it cluttering up our book.  The business is horrible, the propositions are horrible and above all the advertising is horrible.  There’s a lot wrong with financial services, and it’s taking a distressingly long time to put it right.  But thank God we’re not working in gambling.

The most useless message ever

Has there ever been – could there ever be – a message more useless than the NO JUNK MAIL stickers that you seem to see stuck on or around more and more letterboxes?

And not just useless, but silly, prissy and naive too.  Naive because most junk mail is of course pushed through letterboxes by postmen, and it’s just inconceivable that a postie would scrutinise every envelope, decide whether it’s junk mail and then…well, then what, exactly?   Then not put it through your letterbox and do what with it?  Take it back to the sorting office?  Return it to sender?  Put it in a bin?

It’s inconceivable for a whole bunch of ridiculously obvious reasons.  First, it’s just stupid to imagine that a busy postman with a full mailbag has time to peruse every envelope and take a view on whether they’re junk mail or not.  Second, even if he or she did, it’s often really hard to tell.  Crappy Barclaycard 0% balance transfer mailings come in anonymous envelopes intended to sneak through your defences by looking like proper mail.  Statements from proper insurance companies come in garish envelopes carrying full-colour images in a desperate (and usually unsuccessful) attempt to achieve “engagement.”

Third, these stupid sticker-stickers don’t seem to realise that the Royal Mail’s contract isn’t with them, it’s with the customers paying for them to deliver things.  If postpeople were deflected from fulfilling this contract by a front-door sticker, the Royal Mail’s contract business would collapse into chaos.  And, of course, long before than, your kind, helpful, sticker-reading, envelope-perusing postie would have lost his or her job.

Similar considerations apply to non-Royal Mail deliveries.  You have 500 restaurant menus to post through letterboxes before you can collect your four hours’ money on minimum wage.  Apart from the fact that you’ll certainly be sacked if a stack of them are found in a bin somewhere on your delivery round, how keen are you to politely desist from posting a leaflet whenever you see a NO JUNK MAIL sign?  Not keen at all, 100% unkeen, is the answer.

There are four of these useless stickers in my street alone, and there must be hundreds of thousands across the country.  They can’t possibly achieve any part of their aim, so what’s the point of them?

I think they’re there, as most communication is, to say something about the communicator rather than something to the communicatee.  In their abrupt rejection of JUNK MAIL, they say the residents aren’t taken in.  In the same way that research focus group respondents smugly tell us how utterly they remain unaffected by advertising,  NO JUNK MAIL:people choose their restaurants on the basis of the review in the Good Food Guide, unbiased recommendations on social media and personal, objective experience, not on fliers pushed through the door offering freed delivery on orders of £20 or more..  NO JUNK MAIL signs are a sort of virtue signalling, although somehow that isn’t quite the right phrase – I’d be grateful if you could suggest a better one.

And one final thing – they’re ugly, too.  From the point of view of passers-by, rather uglier than the mail inside, lying on the doormat.

.  .

Segmentation. So important in theory, such a shag in reality.

I think I first started getting my head round segmentation about 37 years ago, maybe 36, when I was a creative group head looking after the Co-op’s food retail business.  The stores were pretty grim, and to be honest so were our ads, but our senior client Barry Silverman was probably the closest thing to a mentor that I’ve had in this business, and segmentation was a big theme of his mentoring.

Because of the nature of his organisation, his approach was largely product-driven, not consumer-driven –  basically he’d segmented his food outlets into three, superstores, supermarkets and corner shops, and segmented their propositions and communications on the basis of the needs that each met (respectively, main shop for car users, main shop for non-car users, and secondary or top-up shop)..

This was basic stuff, but it still reflects an approach that’s fairly uncommon in large parts of retail financial services today.  Well schooled by Barry, I can remember when I moved into the financial services world how troubled and surprised I was by the usual practice when promoting products to end-consumer and intermediary target audiences:  to the end-consumer we said “You’ll love this top-performing fund,” and to the intermediaries we said “Your clients will love this top-performing fund.”   This is search-and-replace segmentation, not the real thing at all.  Although I don’t actually think we have search and replace in those days.

This particular approach is less common these days even if only because there are fewer propositions targeted simultaneously to end-consumers and intermediaries, but nevertheless our approach to segmenting markets and targeting propositions to different segments is still rudimentary in the extreme.  Quite often we start well, observing that a number of segments with different needs and attitudes exist.  But, all too often, having recognised this, we decide there’s no way (or no cost-effective way) to identify, prioritise and target any of them, so we need an approach that speaks to them all at once.  (That’s how, as I’ve said before in this blog, a few years ago I found myself writing a mailing about Child Trust Funds to customers of a Big 4 bank that began “Whether you have children or grandchildren, or don’t have children at all…”.)

This failure to segment and target has a devastating effect on our ability to involve and engage.  Our propositions and communications could be incredibly much more powerful if we could develop them with real insight into the way people are – or, rather, the way some people are.

(And, by the way, at risk of stating the obvious, segmentation isn’t just about offering and saying different things to different people – it’s also about deciding which segments to address, and which to ignore.  A proposition which excites a quarter of your market can be massively more successful than one greeted with a yawn by all of them.)

I don’t suppose many people would disagree with much of what I’ve written here – and for once, by way of additional firepower, I even have the regulator on my side.  The FCA may not be much concerned about marketing effectiveness, but it is very concerned about people understanding things.  As a result, it more or less demands that we segment our markets so we can address them in terms they find comprehensible, but much of the time we seem to ignore this demand.)

So what’s going on?  To take a couple of big current examples, why is it that neither the Pensions Freedoms of the last couple of years, or the coming of PSD2 in the last few weeks, seem to have sparked off the kind of highly segmented, highly targeted activity most likely to deliver results?

I think there are two key issues. The first is a largely emotional problem with the whole business.  Segmentation involves a lot of extra work and ultimately extra expense to make life more complicated and/or to make our target markets a lot smaller.  These both feel like un-smart things to do.  If we can keep it nice and general and generic, we can generate business from everyone.  Our slice of the cake may be a little smaller than it could be, but just look at the size of the cake!

The other issue is that for all the data revolution that we’re living through at the moment, our ability to access and use the data we need at the one-to-one level is still very limited.  That bank I mentioned earlier can’t tell, or at least not with certainty, which of its customers have children, or if so how many, or if so how old they are.  It may know whether some of its customers have children, but targeting its Child Trust Fund activity only on them seems like a missed opportunity.  On the whole, it looks like a better bet to target the campaign very broadly – and to begin the letter with that cringe-worthy first sentence I quoted earlier.

I expect it was Barry Silverman who told me all those years ago that the secret of all good marketing – and, even more so, of all good copywriting – is to do what you’re doing with a clear and full picture of just one single individual in your mind.  Not far off 40 years later, we’re still spending most of our time with our heads full of hazy, ill-understood crowds..

Why do financial advisers make such terrible clients?

Some say it’s bad form to use a business blog to wage a personal vendetta, but I’m far from the first – I may even be the last.

Honestly, this is really true, not just brown-nosing – in the seven years since I launched Lucian Camp Consulting, the overwhelming majority of my clients have been an absolute pleasure to work for.  They’ve ticked all three of what I think of as the Good Client boxes – they’ve been friendly and amiable, they’ve been receptive and they’ve been open and communicative.  (Actually nearly all have ticked a fourth box too, come to the think about it – they’ve paid up remarkably quickly on receipt of their invoice.)

So, lots of grateful thanks to a long list of admirable firms and individuals.  But, there’s no denying, it’s an incomplete list.  If you grouped all those clients – I guess there must be either side of a hundred of them – into financial services industry sectors, while most sectors would be basking in warm sunlight there’d be one beset by dark clouds and rain.  Yes, the exception would be the independent financial advice firms.

I should say that a few years ago, I doubt whether this sector would have been represented at all.  Very few of the thousands of firms in this fragmented cottage industry could see any sense in spending money on people like me.  Most, quite frankly, wouldn’t have bothered even if my services were on offer free of charge – marketing and branding and all that daft colouring-in nonsense just seemed like a waste of time.  But as a waste of both.time and money, well, no-brainer.

It was the RDR that changed things, and specifically the bit about needing to tell clients what they’d get in return for that “ongoing adviser charge.”  (Previously, of course, that was what had been known as “trail commission,” and what most clients got in return for that could be briefly summarised in the word “nothing.”)  This new need for advisers to justify the ongoing charge connected strongly to what people like me call “defining the value proposition,” so all of a sudden I found I was speaking on this topic at quite a few IFA events and leaving the events with a pocketful of business cards from advisers wanting follow-up meetings.

Which all sounds great, except that it really hasn’t been.  In case any of my adviser clients are reading this, I should say that two or three have been lovely.  But most really haven’t been very lovely at all – not easy at a personal level, suspicious and dubious about everything I have to say to them and, probably worst, hopelessly uncommunicative.  The default is that most just don’t reply to things.  They don’t answer phones or respond to voicemails or emails.  The only time when they’re not maintaining a couple of months’ worth of radio silence is when they are in fact maintaining a permanent period of radio silence, having just decided to stop dealing with you without ever quite getting round to saying so.  And, needless to say, as regards that fourth box, a well known expression about blood and a stone is the only one that comes to mind.

The reasons for all this, I do appreciate, may be a) good and b) circumstantial    The firms I’m talking about here are small, and no doubt both busy and under-resourced.  And I suppose there is some benefit to me in these otherwise useless experiences – as the proprietor and indeed entire workforce of a small firm which is often busy and arguably under-resourced, they do give me the clearest possible education in the art of pissing your clients off.

The theory behind this born-again blog is that I’m supposed to choose topics that whet your appetite for my forthcoming book on financial services marketing, co-written with my old friend Anthony Thomson.  This morning, though, I’ve gone off-topic.  There’s nothing in the book about (most) financial advisers making rotten clients.  Which, if you’re among those who think this kind of personal grumbling is n’t really appropriate, is probably just as well..

Robo advice. Still happening, still a stupid name, still a mystery.

Looking back at entries in this blog written before the Great Suspension (i.e.before April 2016) I’m surprised how many of them are about robo advice.  This is a subject that still feels like fairly new news to me, or at least like a fairly new (as well as stupid) name.  But in fact I was grumbling about the stupidity of the name back in late 2015, and expressing major doubts about the viability of the whole concept at the same time.

The viability doubts all focused, one way or another, on a single issue:  are we sure there are enough consumers out there who are keen to engage with services like these?  As I’ve said a million times, there is certainly a small number of enthusiastic investment “hobbyists,” who love everything to do with investing and make up the bulk of the customer bases of most established D2C investment services (particularly Hargreaves Lansdown).  But is it the case that just below them in the pyramid there are a few million potential investors, ready to become more engaged and active if only they could find a nice, simple, accessible service which they felt comfortable with?

There is undoubtedly a “next level down” more or less like this in a great many markets, and welcoming them in with that nice, simple accessible new option can be a very successful and profitable thing to do.  I could argue that in (fairly) recent years this has been the secret of the success of car manufacturers with “hot hatchbacks” from the Golf GTi onwards;  of the “casual dining” sector with restaurant brands including Cafe Rouge, Frankie & Benny’s, Carluccio’s and Nando’s, among dozens of others;  and in a slightly different way of the game-changing success of low-cost airlines like easyJet, Ryanair and Norwegian.

But is it true in investment?  Of course the “next level down” investment brands will pick up some business from curious, promiscuous hobbyists, just as my automotive, restaurant and airline examples  have done.  But that’s not how you make the big money – you make the big money when you find the formula that expands the market.

In robo advice, I’ve never believed that any of the existing players has come up with a propositiion anything like simple enough, a brand anything like appealing enough or a marketing budget anything like big enough to become the GTi, Cafe Rouge or easyJet of the sector.

It seems that quite a few of the existing players share my doubts, because one thing that has been happening while I’ve been away is that a number have been partnering with, or indeed being acquired by, big institutions who, it’s believed, can give them access to millions of warm customers and wonderfully nice low cost.

This blog, indeed, has been triggered by an announcement of another of these partnerships, with the oddly-named Scalable Capital partnering in some sort of way with Dutch bank ING.  (Is it just me, or is there something a bit troublingly reptilian about that “Scalable”?)   Blackrock already owns a big slice of Scalable, and of course Aviva has bought Wealthify,  LV= owns Wealth Wizards and Schroders has invested a lot of money into Nutmeg.

At boardroom level, I’m sure all these deals make excellent sense.  But out there in the market?   I’m still not detecting much excitement in the pyramid’s middle tier

To be honest, I can’t actually remember if we develop this theme in our forthcoming book on financial services marketing, No Small Change, written jointly by my old friend Anthony Thomson and myself and due for publication in the last week of May.  All I can say is that there may well be.  I’ll give you the pre-ordering details as soon as I have them,. and you can find out for yourself..


Seems we still can’t stop asking too much of our customers

Back in the day, one of the themes that came up time after time in this blog was about people who are in the industry asking too much of people who aren’t.  We say things that are too difficult for most to understand and come up with products that are too complicated for most to use.

For decades, the result has been that many of the ideas that we’ve intended for ordinary people have been taken up by people who aren’t ordinary at all.  Investment services like Nutrmeg, for example, originally intended fore the inexperienced investor, find to their surprise that their customer base consists largely of exactly the same “hobbyist” customers as existing, mainstream investments.  The supposedly mass market Pension Wise guidance service is mostly used by hobbyist retirees fine-tuning their knowledge and their options.  A few years ago Stakeholder Pensions, intended as the most mass-market of all long-term investments, were principally adopted by affluent hobbyists as a way of boosting their tax-free contributions (they opened plans in the names of their kids, nannies and cleaners).

It’s early days, but I’d say the signs are that it’s happening again, this time around the big and potentially game-changing idea that’s called Open Banking.  So far, I’ve failed to understand more or less all the media coverage that I’ve noticed – but the one message that has come across is that Open Banking makes it easy for me to see the state of all of my finances in one place.

To hobbyists, and crucially within that term I include the very large majority of people working in the industry, that sounds great.  It’s a self-evident good.  Of course I’d like to be able to see all my finances in one place.  It would be really interesting.  And useful.

To most of the rest of us, it’s a proposition that’s of no interest at all.  We’re not that interested in looking at our financial position at all, whether they’re in one place, or a few places, or lots.  It’s about as useful and appealing as being able to look at all our books in one place.  Or all our houseplants.  Or all our carpets.

These are things that we don’t really look at very much at all, and when we do we’re perfectly happy if they’re not in the same place as other similar things.  It’s a bit irritating if we’re looking for a particular book and can’t find it, but it’s not a problem often and we know where to find the ones we refer to frequently.

There are things which it obviously is convenient to keep in one place – clothes, for example, or cutlery, or music (whether physical or virtual).  These tend to be things that we need to choose from frequently, and/or to put together in combinations (whether place settings, outfits or playlists).  Financial services don’t come into this category.

Once you’ve put your financial products together in one place, there is of course the potential for some enormous second-order benefits.  It’s possible to save a great deal of money, to take advantage of propositions that meet your needs much better and do the financial things you need to do a whole lot more easily (I’ve been told a hundred times in the last few months about the imminent arrival of the “one-click mortgage.”

These are all great and exciting things, and could form the basis for simple, understandable propositions that might actually cut through and engage people.  (The role model, as so often in this blog, is of course price comparison sites, which have cut through and engaged through a winning combination of simplicity of proposition and hugeness of ad spend.)

It may well be that eventually Open Banking will reduce down into similarly powerful, simple messages expressed with similarly huge ad budgets.  But for the time being, it’s hobbyist speaking only unto fellow hobbyist.  Most of us absolutely aren’t excited at all.

In the old, pre-sabbatical blog, that would have been the end.  However, in the new it isn’t.  The plan is now to close, pretty much invariably, with a plug for the book.  It includes a lot more on this theme, our habit of asking too much of our customers and over-estimating their level of interest in the financial services world.  You can’t pre-order it on Amazon yet – but when you can, you’ll be the first to know.