Archive for July 29th, 2011

FPS’ Friday Fiver

We’re back, providing another round-up of some of the big stories from the world of financial services, the economy and Westminster this week. Contributors this week include Clare, Linzi, Jo and Ed, who bring us an overview of banking, pensions, retailers, and our new feature – Good Week/Bad Week.

Banking – fundamental flaws and failed customers…On Tuesday, Vince Cable held court at the Which? Banking Reform – An Agenda for Competition and Growth discussion at the Commonwealth Club, where he re-iterated his opinion that “banking is a structurally flawed industry that has fundamentally failed customers”.

Vince Cable - on the attack on banking once again (Image: Which.co.uk)

That the current system of banking is flawed is a no-brainer, but the harder question to answer is where exactly do the flaws lie? The conversation on Tuesday spanned the topics of increased competition, universal banking, ring-fencing, culture and behaviour along with new entrants into the banking market, but it seems that, nearly three years since the start of the global financial crisis, more questions continue to be posed than answered.

Is universal banking really the root of all banking evil? Do customers really feel their banks have failed them given so few of us have switched? With the array of initiatives, commissions, inquiries, and comite des sages taking place at the national, European and international levels, one has to hope that between them they will be able to identify and remedy the flaws that exist. However, there is the potential for all of these to come up with different flaws and different answers which complicate and confuse structures and customers alike!

Paying more for retirement…The spotlight returned to public sector pensions this week as figures leaked to The Daily Telegraph revealed exactly how much workers in the public sector will pay extra each month for their pensions.

Danny Alexander was asked how much more he personally would have to pay towards his pension this week (Image: Thesun.co.uk)

As expected, higher earners will take the brunt of the increases and the lowest paid workers, earning less than £15,000, will escape any increases at all.

Here are some of the figures from the proposals:

  • Those earning over £100,000 will pay £284 a month (£3,400 a year) more
  • Public sector workers in the £50,000 bracket will pay between £684 – £768  more
  • Those on a £35,000 salary face paying an extra £516 a year more

Despite the backlash, which was always going to happen, you can’t escape the welcome news that low paid public sector workers, some 750,000 people, will be exempt from any increase in contributions and those earning £21,000 will be out of pocket £108 a year, or just £9 a month. The fact remains that even with these increases, public sector pensions are still a valuable benefit.

We still aren’t buying much on the high street…Another worrying week for retailers as figures on Thursday showed that sales fell at their fastest pace for a year as consumers become increasingly reluctant to spend. This is brutal news for the already struggling retailers and may be a sign of further deterioration and shop closures to come.

Only one in three retailers claimed their sales volumes were up on a year ago, with food retailers being particularly hard hit – either we’ve all been hit by the rise in food costs and are watching the pennies like hawks or the nation is on a collective pre-holiday diet.

However, one retailer that isn’t afraid of the UK high street (or shall we say Oxford Street) is cut-price U.S. brand Forever 21, which opened its doors for us on Wednesday. Some critics state that we are not ready for ‘cheap, fast, American’ fashion’ but with the way things are going on the high street we may not have a choice.

George Soros - the latest financial veteran to retire

Good week/Bad week – George Soros & George Osborne…A tale of two George’s this week. For the first (the man who ‘broke the Bank of England’), the effective end of a remarkable 40 year investment career. While the manner of his retirement was a little sour, blaming US regulations, you can’t argue with his success over the years. He will likely be missed.

On the flip side, it was a less than stellar week for the younger George, who, as yet more vanilla growth figures rolled in, suddenly found himself the victim of attacks from several fronts. How he must be wishing for the summer break to roll around quickly.