Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m so old I remember a time before Channel 4, so I’ve been in financial services for over 25 years, both as a journalist and as communications consultant. I live in Chipping Norton, near David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson, and have two grown up kids who are both at university in London. I’m currently on a diet, but my weakness is chocolate.
Why did you go into social & digital?
I set up a money comparison website in South Africa, mainly using my PR and journalism experience and knowledge of money. But I loved the way the web worked and the fact that users, rather than journalists, could influence content and what other people saw.
When I returned to the UK I realised that most people banging on about digital didn’t really understand financial services, so lots of FS firms were lagging behind because they were scared. That’s how I got my job at Nationwide; I could explain the business benefits of social media to the Board whilst reassuring the compliance department that it wasn’t going to cause them any grief.
What work have you been most proud of?
I ran a UGC (user generated content) social competition at Nationwide to support the launch of a new TV ad which generated engagement with both customers and employees in the tens of thousands, all for a budget of £250. My team ended up winning a national award for that one.
What was it like working at Nationwide?
A journalist once called Nationwide a “national treasure” – when the UK banking sector was in meltdown, Nationwide carried on, always turning a profit and never needing a bail out. That gave the Society the perception of being safe and not very innovative. But when I joined, the management were really supportive of what I was trying to do with social media in a sector where it was still new and untested. I learnt a lot – it’s a great brand and had a great culture.
If you could give one piece of financial advice to a teenage version of yourself, what would it be?
Go out and spend a bit more money enjoying yourself. I spent too long as a teenager sitting in my room listening to The Smiths and watching movies. When I did go out, I’d go to record shops in London and buy obscure movie soundtrack albums on Japanese import. It wasn’t until my late-twenties that I discovered travelling, so I wish I’d spent more of my money seeing the world at a younger age.
If you could change one thing about the financial services industry, what would it be?
Can I do two things? Firstly, teach financial awareness in schools as part of maths – forget APRs, too many kids can’t even work out whether a two-for-one deal is good value. Secondly, I’d ban current accounts that pay high interest rates, particularly just for an introductory period. They don’t encourage saving, but instead incentivise people with lots of money to play the system by opening up multiple current accounts to maximise the interest they earn.
What would you do if you were Prime Minister for a day?
Make all chocolate free. What if you don’t like chocolate? Tough, you should’ve elected somebody else.
What is your biggest pet peeve, or makes you angry?
Dishonesty and untrustworthiness. Trust should be the foundation of any kind of relationship; if you don’t have trust, you’re done for. That’s why things like “alternative facts” and “fake news” are so worrying, because they destroy trust in the authorities and the media.
Now, tell us a little about your life outside of work, do you have any hobbies?
I listen to music – I still have loads of vinyl – and I’m working on the book/screenplay that I’ll sell for £millions. I just have to start writing it…
I have also set myself a challenge of doing at least one thing off my travel bucket list every year. 2017 was a bumper year as I went to Singapore, New York and Marrakech. Next year is probably going to be driving along the West Coast of California in a red Mustang.
What is the one column or website that you read every day?
BBC for news and the Mail Online for what’s really going on – i.e. Bake Off, Kardashians – and how angry people are about it. I read The Guardian for a bit more reflective insight.
What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
In my head I’d use it to play the stock market or have a regular flutter on the horses, on the basis that if I lost it all it wouldn’t really matter. But in reality I’d put it towards my mortgage or my pension, and maybe keep a few quid aside for dinner somewhere outrageously expensive.