We speak to Helen Knapman, MSE’s brand new assistant editor – news and investigations, about her time in personal finance media so far – including the story she’s most proud of, the ‘buy now, pay later’ sector and why she’d tell her younger self not to bury her head in the sand about money.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m an award-winning journalist who has covered personal finance for the past 10 years. Over the last decade I’ve worked at Moneywise, The Sun, and MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) covering everything from consumer issues and investing to business, food and drink, and travel.
2. What do you cover and what does your daily routine look like?
I’m currently assistant editor – news and investigations at MSE. MSE’s goal is to help educate, empower and fight for consumers’ rights.
On the news desk, the team typically spend the morning writing breaking or on-diary stories, which I help to edit. Either myself or my editor will also attend a morning conference with team leaders from other desks to discuss the day’s focus and whether we need to work together on anything – for example, with the press or campaigns teams.
News works closely with MSE’s campaigns team, which lobbies the Government and regulators to make positive change for consumers. Current campaigns include one to free mortgage prisoners and another to help those excluded from coronavirus financial support.
Afternoons tend to be devoted to investigating, writing and editing long-term features, or in forward planning meetings. I also often appear as an expert for MSE in the print and broadcast media.
3. How has your move to MSE been? Has it changed since you worked there first?
MSE gave me my first job in journalism as a news reporter back in 2011. I left the site in 2015 and re-joined at the end of 2020 in this new role. In some respects, it’s very similar – the key focus is still the weekly newsletter, which goes out every Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning to 7.5 million people – but the technology has dramatically evolved over the years – as has the size of the team.
4. How was working at The Sun? Is it different from other outlets?
I am incredibly grateful for my experience at The Sun and was lucky enough to win a Wincott Award for my work there, as well as nab a front page.
What sets The Sun apart, in my opinion, is the way it sells stories. I can’t think of another publication that nails a pun and draws you in like The Sun. It also knows its audience inside out and runs incredible campaigns to help members of society who are often otherwise forgotten about.
5. What is the one news story or feature you’ve written that you’re most proud of?
I’m incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to break exclusives and work on agenda-setting stories over my career.
This story isn’t one of those, but the reason I’ve chosen it is because it is one of the pieces that has most humbled and moved me. It really shook me to realise just how privileged my life has been, and how others sadly face a very different path.
I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to have to hide your children in the bedroom while you try your best to negotiate with a loan shark on your doorstep. It was a real privilege to give Liss (the reader) a voice as part of The Sun’s ‘Stop The Credit Rip-Off Campaign’.
You can read the story here.
6. How much do you work with PRs for your job? What should they do better?
I talk to PRs on an almost daily basis and they’re vitally important in helping me to do my job – from sparking ideas and introducing me to exclusive case studies, to background briefings on complex subjects.
Before pitching, I’d suggest really familiarising yourself with what we cover and what you can bring to the table that we can’t simply do in-house ourselves.
7. If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice what would it be?
Don’t bury your head in the sand. I have a bad habit of putting things off, but as soon as I do an energy switch or put some extra cash earned into savings, for example, I always feel so much better knowing I’m making my money work hard for me.
8. What would you do if you were head of the FCA for the day?
Take a long hard look at the ‘buy now, pay later’ sector, which is currently unregulated. MSE’s founder, Martin Lewis, has warned how this type of credit has “exploded” and there are fears it could quickly turn into the next payday loans and we all know how that ended.
9. What is the one column or website that you read every day?
10. What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
Well, that would be rather nice wouldn’t it? Firstly, I’d splash out on a holiday (once restrictions allow, of course) – I think we could all use one of those right now. Then I’d probably stick half of what’s remaining in cash savings for any short-term expenses, and the rest in my Stocks and Shares Isa.