Brendan Llewellyn wants us all to stop thinking in terms of ‘gaps' and focus on the individual end consumer...
What do pensions, savings and protection have in common? Gaps, they all have their own private gap; the notional chasm between what consumers should buy and what they actually buy.
Now the advice gap looks all set to compound the problem.
These gaps have produced many workshops, multiple white papers and noisy calls for campaigns to narrow them. But the very idea of a "gap", representing the contrast between where you are and where you ought to be, is, from a consumer perspective, a little judgemental. There are markets where guilt sells but this isn't one of them, at least not in a way that sticks.
The gap issue hits hardest in the mid-market where consumers have to make difficult choices with their disposable income.
At the lower end there are less choices to make – it's more about coping. At the higher end, consumers may be able to have their cake and eat it, or their third car and a decent retirement pot.
And one option is so hardwired into the national consciousness that it hardly seems like a choice; the mantra that come hell or high water you must achieve home ownership, even if that means the shelving of all but nominal protection cover and the long-term deferral of any pension provision, save the rather nominal auto-enrolment deal.
Then there's the other option of negative saving, normally known as credit.
So look at this from the consumer choice perspective. The household income, after all essentials are dealt with, is perhaps £5,000. The car could do with replacing; the kids are becoming more expensive by the month. There is a case for a new cooker, and DFS appear to be suggesting on a pretty regular basis that a new sofa or two might make all the difference. It would also be nice to have a decent holiday.
That £5,000 is looking spoken for. But then there's credit. The chances of this consumer seeing a commercial for credit is maybe 50 times the chance of him seeing one for savings, or pensions. And unless he's in the over 50s market, the chance of him seeing a commercial for life assurance is even less.
In between, the outstanding "priceless" campaigns for MasterCard, and the creditable "life flows faster" from VISA. So that £5,000 gets spent and then, with a nice line in credit, another £5,000 is also spent.
Now, no one would suggest consumers should borrow to save (though effectively many do, with rolling credit balances and a desire to keep some ringfenced savings, earning maybe 25% of the cost of credit).
And in between these enormously powerful credit sellers, there is of course a splendid array of commercial messages persuading us to consume rather than save.
The total advertising forecast spend for 2014 is £18.7bn.
Then if you turn from the plasma to the tablet, you will see that online retailers selling consumption rather than savings are just, well, better.
So all in all, is it realistic to expect these mid-market consumers to defer significant amounts of consumption and save up for a rainy day, or for when they are old, or to spend 20% of that £5,000 on protecting both earners against death, critical illness and income protection?
So, what's to be done? Stop thinking in terms of gaps. Such terms are really nothing more than institutionalised sales aids. The notion that there is a correct level of cover or an appropriate pension is just an illusion we seek unsuccessfully to create.
There is no correct frequency for sofa replacement. The right amount to spend on a car is entirely a matter of personal choice. And persuading people of these Isles that house purchase might not be mandatory is like pushing water uphill.
Those of us wishing consumers to buy our wares must compete for their hearts, minds and wallets. It's not a matter of what consumers ought to do; it's a matter of what they choose, in an increasingly open market, to do with their money.
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