SmallBluePlanet is struck by a bout of that financial phobia thing
'Why was your receptionist hiding under the desk when I dropped by your offices to pick you up?' I asked the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet as soon as we had settled down with our drinks at the back of The Green Pashmina.
'Director of first impressions, old boy,' he replied.
'I'm sorry?' I said.
'She's not a receptionist,' said the chairman. 'As you very well know, we prefer to describe all of our people occupying that role within the company as directors of first impressions. It makes them feel more loved.'
There was a time when the chairman had a very different way of making all his directors of first impressions feel more loved but now was perhaps not the right moment for such an observation. 'Of course,' I said. 'But going back to my original question, regardless of her job title, she was very definitely hiding under her desk. Why was that?'
The chairman sighed and took a long drink from his pint of Light Brown Tanktop before replying. 'It would appear that much of the workforce at SmallBlue Planet has come down with this financial phobia thing. No doubt you've read about it.'
'I did see something from Egg,' I replied. 'As part of the group's ongoing mission to take over from whomever it was as 'the listening bank', it found a Cambridge academic who wrote a report on the fear of finance. It defines financial phobia as 'a psycho-social syndrome that causes individuals to avoid cognitive engagement with the management of their personal finances. Sufferers experience negative emotions of anxiety, guilt, boredom, or feelings of lack of control when dealing with money matters, resulting in a lack of vigilance ' and in the worst cases complete avoidance ' in this area'.'
Ignoring the fact it should probably be called chrematodotophobia, it sounds to me like any 'sufferer' is looking for an excuse for being a bit wet ' but you say it's really affecting SmallBlue?'
'Sort of,' said the chairman. 'We've had a bunch of specialists in and they've diagnosed my staff as having a rare strain of the condition. Apparently, it causes them to avoid cognitive engagement with the management of other people's personal finances. As we are an investment company, this is not a good thing.'
'Indeed not,' I agreed. 'So how is this manifesting itself with your staff?'
'According to my figures, 54% of them experience apprehension while 38% show no interest at all in money matters,' said the chairman.
'Isn't that about the norm at SmallBlue?' I asked.
'Usually I'd agree with you,' replied the chairman. 'But this time there are also some physical effects. Nearly half report a racing heart, more than one in 10 are physically ill or dizzy and one in six find themselves immobilised when faced with the prospect of managing money.'
'Again ' not a good thing in your line of work,' I said.
'Especially when it includes the whole UK desk,' replied the chairman.
'You don't seem particularly affected yourself though,' I observed.
'No,' agreed the chairman. 'It seems the highest levels of financial phobia are to be found in younger age groups ' although no group is immune to the condition.
'According to the experts, its onset appears to coincide with some form of financial upset out of the control of the sufferer, so I'm thinking it could be these really, really depressing markets or, more likely, the fact we had a grand total of 17 Isa applications in January.'
'So not too bad, then,' I said.
'Not to judge by the conversations I've been having with some of my opposite numbers,' agreed the chairman. 'Although we're now thinking of a promotion where I go round to people's houses and fill in their application forms myself before giving them a piggyback to the letterbox. What do you think?'
'That as long as you're prepared to risk a hernia for a couple of grand, that Martin Currie feels disposed to host Burns Night suppers in Sweden, that Japan hedge funds can lose all their value in one week and that First State thinks the best way to sell funds in the UK is to be rude about our cricket team, I'll never be affected by my own personal financial phobia.'
'And that would be?'
'Having nothing to write about in this column.'
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