I’ve mentioned before that everything I write about is driven by the financial concerns of individuals. My view has always been that personal finance journalism should start with the personal.
Over the years you’ve responded magnificently, given me plenty of stories to cover or follow up, and helped build and back the many campaigns we’ve run. So it seems timely to turn things over to you once more to help me fill this column.
Let’s start with this question from Joseph Murray. “I have never heard of the banks listed in your newspaper,” he said, referring to our weekly best-buy tables. “Can you recommend a high-street bank for decent savings, given that I have no access to the internet at home?”
This really is a modern problem. The traditional high-street names you know – and some of you still trust – are not likely to be the savings institutions that give you the best deals. The leading rates come from the challenger banks and building societies – often small institutions, with no branches, that are keen to attract customers.
That you haven’t heard of them shouldn’t put you off. As long as they have a banking licence and are fully authorised, your money should be just as safe with them as it is with the traditional names. If you don’t have access to the internet and have no family or friends who can help you get a decent savings account, try walking a little further up the high street to find a decent deal – rather than accepting the paltry rates at your existing bank.
A quick check on this week’s best-buy easy access accounts reveals the presence of Virgin Money and Yorkshire building society, both of which have a high-street presence. Virgin Money has 75 “stores”, some even offering free coffee, while Yorkshire building society has 230 branches across the country.
My advice to Joseph, and others in his position, is spread your search beyond the usual high-street banks.
On the subject of savings, I was interested to hear this week from Bobby Bimks. “I was in Isas for many years and still am to a small extent, but the interest rates are absolute rubbish – you might as well use you mattress as a savings tool,” he wrote. Let’s face it, after seven years of ultra low rates – coincidentally, the length of time I have served as personal finance editor of this newspaper – Bobby was making an excellent point.
He continued: “Even if you tie your money up for at least a year, it’s still not worth it. You use these banks for years and still get treated badly.”
That’s a view most of us would concur with. But are the banks to blame for the low interest rates? Not really. The fault lies at the door of the Government, which has consistently concentrated on helping borrowers rather than savers.
Regular contributor Robert Johnson has been one of my touchstones in the past few years, with reports from the front-line.
He recently told me: “On Thursday I made one of my occasional trips to Glasgow to go round the various banks and building societies to get a feel for what is happening on savings interest rates. And the story is that they are declining.”
The many other insights I’ve received from readers have been equally valuable over the years in ensuring I’ve been aware of your concerns and that this section has reflected your interests – rather than the profit-driven interests of big business.
I have also had many touching messages from you in recent weeks. I hope you’ll bear with me as I share just one.
Gary Waldron wrote: “I would like to thank you and say that I have very much enjoyed reading your weekly column and following the campaigns you have championed on behalf of your readers over the years. There is nothing like the intervention and exposure offered by a major newspaper to focus the attention of multi-site corporate organisations and encourage these conglomerates to improve the service they offer to the public.”
Thank you, Gary. And thank you all. I’ll continue to tilt at the corporate giants and attempt to make them play fair with us. And watch out for me on BBC One in July when I’ll be helping people make sense of their finances in the show Right On The Money.