VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Helping you get more from your money for 125 years

As the Daily Mail celebrates its 125th anniversary this week, my eye is drawn to the first-ever Money Mail front page hanging in my office.

We are the oldest national newspaper personal finance section.

Launched in September 1966, our goal was to help ordinary families make sense of the financial world and get the most from their money.

Groundbreaking: Launched in September 1966, Money Mail’s goal was to help ordinary families make sense of the financial world and get the most from their money

As then City editor Sir Patrick Sergeant wrote in our very first edition: ‘A great need in Britain is for advice about money, how to save it, and how to avoid paying too much tax on it.

‘The aim of Money Mail is to fill this need.’ He thought it wrong that only the rich had access to the inside knowledge needed to grow their fortunes.

‘Readers can be sure we shall spare neither effort nor expense to help them,’ he vowed.

And to this day, nearly 55 years on, you, our loyal readers, remain at the heart of everything we do.

My predecessors often talked about the ‘five pillars’ of Money Mail: mortgages, savings, pensions, investments and insurance. And though these stand firm, we are constantly adding to our remit to stay afoot in a changing world — and now cover fraud, energy, broadband, online shopping to name but a few.

But, at all times, we are guided by our postbag, and what you tell us is important to you.

It is your stories that inspire us and drive our campaigns, be it fighting for fairer treatment of fraud victims, the bereaved or starved savers.

And it is your letters and emails that give us the evidence we need to hold companies to account. So as we raise a glass to mark 125 years of the Daily Mail, I would like to toast you, our loyal readers.

Thank you — and please keep your letters coming.

We bank on them

I am very tired of tales about shoddy service at bank branches. Branch numbers were already dwindling before the pandemic, with 500 more facing the axe this year.

During lockdown, many slashed their opening hours, leaving queues out the door.

Others turned away customers if their visit was not deemed ‘essential’, with one 75-year-old lady told she could not even deposit cash. 

But as the virus threat retreats, there is no longer any excuse for failing to provide a proper branch service.

And staff would do well to remember that many customers visit their local branch because they want to be served by a person not a machine.

One Money Mail reader said that after travelling ten miles to their nearest NatWest, he and his wife were told they could not take out cash at the counter.

The couple, who have been with the bank for more than 50 years, had paid in a cheque and cleared a credit card balance.

But when they asked to withdraw £200 cash, the assistant said the sum was too small and directed them to an ATM out in the cold where they did not feel as secure. As our reader puts it: ‘What ever happened to customer service?’

World’s best saves

Today we feature a host of money management methods from cultures around the world. My favourite is the Scandinavian concept of lagom. It means to live in moderation — ‘not too much, not too little’.

And after two weeks out of the office, it’s perhaps no coincidence that I feel most drawn to this notion.

With shops, pubs and restaurants open for business once more, I’ve found myself quickly slipping back into costly habits I thought I’d kicked for good.

A coffee here, lunch out there. And while I’m keen to support struggling businesses, balance is key.

If you have a money motto you swear by, I’d love to hear from you at the email address below.

Breathe in and out

Thank you for all your funny emails about the silliest instructions you’ve spotted when out shopping.

For me, the winner had to be: ‘Open box before eating pizza’.

As my colleague Richard Littlejohn is fond of saying: you really couldn’t make it up.

[email protected]

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ALEX BRUMMER: Betrayal of Standard Life Aberdeen’s brand heritage

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, proclaims Proverbs. 

Since the 2017 merger of Martin Gilbert’s Aberdeen Asset Management and the dowager of Scottish insurance, Standard Life, the two firms have contrived to damage both titles.

The idea that the group’s new identity Abrdn will have financial advisers up and down the land celebrating ‘a brand that cuts through’ is risible.

It is more likely to have advisers pulling their hair out as they try to explain what it represents to clients deciding how to deploy hard-earned savings.

Makeover: The idea that Standard Life Aberdeen’s new identity Abrdn will have financial advisers up and down the land celebrating ‘a brand that cuts through’ is risible

The original post-merger structure of Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) was always going to be tetchy with Gilbert, a larger- than-life networker, unlikely to operate smoothly with the technocratic Keith Skeoch. 

The divorce took a little time, with the entrepreneurial, golf fanatic Gilbert landing in the new world of fintech at Revolut.

The choice for Skeoch is more prosaic, with a job as chairman of the Financial Reporting Council awaiting legislative translation into the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority or Arga. 

What they left behind is not pretty. The share price has tanked 31 per cent since the merger in spite of booming stock markets. 

The dividend was axed by one third in March amid heavy outflows of funds. In a deal of fiendish complexity in February this year, the Standard Life brand, with a heritage dating back to 1825, was transferred to the home for closed insurance companies, Phoenix. 

It extended to SLA the job of managing £147.4billion of Phoenix-held assets until 2031. Given the dismal performance of SLA, the mandate might not be regarded as in the very best interest of Phoenix customers.

Re-brands can stick. In the world of insurance, at Aviva, no one thinks very much these days of Norwich Union or Commercial Union, the two main constituent companies. 

But there is also a long history of rebranding going wrong. Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser changed to RB before deciding recently to revert to plain Reckitt.

When it comes to handling savings, financial advisers want names they can trust. It is no accident that Phoenix has chosen to use the Standard Life brand as its reintroduction to soliciting new business.

Aberdeen has made mistakes in the past, but is regarded as a pioneer in emerging market investment, which at some point will likely roar back. Schroders has not found it necessary to abandon its Hanseatic League origins for the unpronounceable. 

Among the biggest beasts, Fidelity, Vanguard and Blackrock are not, as far as one knows, reaching for the Wolff Olins magic.

The road back at SLA is not a new image but a big step up in performance.

Crime watch

Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs), aping the American tendency to make deals with corporate miscreants, were seen as an efficient way of dealing with corporate fraud and bribery when introduced in the UK in 2014.

Among those to reach agreement with the Serious Fraud Office, in judge-approved deals, have been Rolls-Royce, Tesco and outsourcer Serco. 

The process has delivered more reliable justice, big fines and allowed firms to put the past behind them. No individuals were charged at Rolls-Royce, and the Tesco defendants walked free.

DPAs have had an unforeseen impact. It has made it much more difficult for the Serious Fraud Office to bring successful prosecutions against the individuals.

In the latest prosecution to fall apart, two former bosses of Serco, Nicholas Woods and Simon Marshall were cleared of hiding £12million in profits from the firm’s electronic tagging contracts with the Government. In 2019 Serco was fined £19million as part of a DPA.

This case and others have shown it is all but impossible to bring successful prosecutions against individuals after a DPA. 

Although the stain of long criminal investigations can never be fully expunged from executive lives. The balance of fraud risk has been shifted to companies for white collar offences. That cannot be satisfactory.

Pill pushers

Consumer goods firms have a new battleground. 

Hard on the heels of Unilever buying US-based Smartypants vitamins in November 2020, Nestle, maker of Kit Kat, has gone one better by popping America’s Bountiful Company, producer of Nature’s Bounty vitamin pills, which was planning a £4.4billion float. 

Healthy living is the post- pandemic rage.

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HAMISH MCRAE: Will Joe Biden trigger tax rise here?

HAMISH MCRAE: If ever we wanted a reminder that what happens in the US affects rest of us, fallout from Biden’s tax plan was as good a lesson as any

Joe Biden certainly spoilt the party last week with his plan not only to increase taxes in the US, but to tax capital gains as income. When details emerged, the Dow Jones index promptly fell by two per cent and US shares have been wobbly ever since. 

That has helped pull down prices in the UK and Europe too. If ever we wanted a reminder that what happens in the US affects the rest of us, that was as good a lesson as any. 

This is not simply about the top one per cent of wealthy Americans who look like being hit hardest. It is about much less wealthy Britons and Europeans too. 

Finger on the pulse: Joe Biden certainly spoilt the party with his plan not only to increase taxes in the US, but to tax capital gains as income

The prime reason why this should be so is that there is logic to the idea. The main ways in which not only the US but just about the entire developed world have tried to offset the impact of the pandemic have been super-loose fiscal and money policies. 

There has been a huge surge in spending, financed by a huge surge in borrowing. The result has been a big increase in government debts, but also a surge in asset prices – shares in the US, homes in the UK, and so on. Those with the most assets, the rich, have done best of all. So why not tax some of those windfall gains that have accrued to the wealthy and use the money to start getting public debts back under control? What could be fairer than that? 

If President Biden succeeds in getting most of his tax proposals through Congress – never certain in the US system – that would give political cover for other countries to do something similar if that is what they wanted to do. 

Before you conclude that Rishi Sunak will also tax capital gains as income – and I think that highly unlikely – there are some crucial differences between the US and the UK tax systems. 

For a start, the tax take there is much smaller than in the UK – around a quarter of GDP instead of more than one-third. Taxes on high-earners are much lower. 

There are state income taxes as well as federal ones and the top marginal rate in California works out at about 50 per cent. But you have to earn $600,000 a year (around £430,000) to hit that level. 

There are also many more legal loopholes in the US than in the UK that people can use to cut the amount they actually hand over. That applies, by the way, to corporate taxation too. 

Headline corporation taxes in the US have for years been higher than the UK, but revenues as a percentage of GDP have been lower. So while there were squeals of protest when news of the Biden plans came through, I’m sure that when the details are announced, the legions of tax lawyers will set to work to figure out how to keep their clients’ money out of the tax net. 

There is another reason why our Chancellor might not be under as much pressure to increase tax as seemed likely even last month. 

UK public finances look materially better than they did at the time of the Budget on March 3. The deficit for the past financial year is still terrible, but less terrible than the Office for Budget Responsibility expected.

We have just heard that it was £303billion – £23billion less than the OBR projected. There will be some additional costs from Government loans to businesses that don’t get paid back. But the prospects for the current year are improving, as the economy is picking up a little faster than seemed likely a few weeks ago. The strong retail sales numbers say so, and we can all feel a bit of the uplift in the streets – or at least a sense of relief that freedom is in sight. 

My guess is that when everything is clearer in the autumn, the Chancellor may find he needs to tweak his tax plans. The deficit will be coming down, but not fast enough. 

The rich will probably end up paying a little more, maybe through some cuts in pension relief. For example, it would make sense to allow people to put more into a pension pot but cut the rate of tax relief when they do so. 

It will all be done in the name of fairness. Given that one of the many troubling effects of the pandemic has been to make the world a less fair place, it would be hard to argue against that.