We need to talk money: Why it’s time to break this damaging British taboo

 
Nigel Wilson

MANY of my recent articles – on elderly care provision, student finance, and housing in particular – have focused on these problems from the point of view of public policy.

But this is only one half of the story. The other half is how ordinary people have to grapple with these serious financial issues every day: the students trying to afford university; the retirement-age workers worrying about whether they have saved enough in their pensions; the young couple trying to afford a starter home for their family.

These are stories that really matter. Unfortunately, they are also untold stories, as people don’t talk about them. We chat a lot about house prices, but not about savings or pensions. And Legal & General research shows that we see money as a taboo subject: 46 per cent say money is a personal matter that simply should not be talked about. That has to change.

The impact of money being a taboo is huge. The same research we conducted shows that 41 per cent of people – over 20m adults – feel stressed about their finances. This affects the daily lives of millions of families up and down the country.

Reluctance can also have a significant financial impact for the 46 per cent of us who say finances are something we should not talk about. A conversation with friends can work like a comparison website, but a lack of information or understanding may mean people accept a worse rate on their savings, don’t contribute enough to their pensions, or overpay for their mortgage.

And what about the further 41 per cent who will only talk about money when they have an immediate worry? This is almost always too late, and can result in people taking short-term solutions, such as payday loans, which can prove unsustainable and expensive.

If you are still not convinced, why not watch the video on our Facebook page, and listen to the personal stories we heard recently when we asked people at the Trafford Centre in Manchester and the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex about what they thought was taboo. It is revealing viewing.

Encouragingly, the government has been taking steps in the right direction. Personal finance education is now part of the school curriculum and, at Legal & General, we have taken our Money, Money, Money programme, aimed at helping teenagers to understand what it’s like to be responsible for their own finances in real world situations, into many local schools. The Money Advice Service has faced criticism of the way it operates, but the idea is certainly right.

We are also trying to do our bit. We are planning campaigns to tackle the money taboo in the workplace as well as at home, encouraging firms to support their employees. We are creating resources to help people understand the issues and navigate the too-often confusing jargon of financial terms. If there is any other way you think we could help, we’d love to hear your ideas too.

Most of all, however, if we want to break the Great British Money Taboo, we must all start talking about money, beginning right now. Why not ask your friends for their opinion? You could speak to your employer about what workplace benefits you might be entitled to, such as a pension or childcare support. Be open with your partner about your family finances and consider finding a local regulated financial adviser who can advise you.

I don’t mind sharing that, in my twenties, I had to take a long, hard look at the competing demands of a stimulating, but not very well-paid, career as an academic economist, versus the desire for a large family, with all the costs involved. I ended up in business, and with five daughters, and I don’t regret the decision for a minute. I made the mortgage a priority, and I was fortunate that house price rises gave me a capital gain bigger than my interest payments in the end. I certainly discussed my financial priorities with friends, family and colleagues along the way. Now it’s your turn.

Nigel Wilson is group chief executive of Legal & General. Tweet @landg_uk using the hashtag #everydaymatters with your suggestions or visit facebook.com/legalandgeneral