Industry awards, the kiss of death

So, how to tell in advance which banks and financial institutions are headed towards the door marked ‘exit’?

City analysts like to pore over spreadsheets, corporate accounts and chief executive comments for nuances and clues as to performance.

I prefer to keep things simple. I used to reckon that any FTSE company which had (1) flagpoles outside its HQ; (2) a country-house training centre; and (3) a corporate helicopter, was probably in trouble. Nowadays, however, I study lists of winners at industry award shindigs because, almost by tradition, they’re seen as the ‘kiss of death’.

icesave11Take Icesave. Its website was, until earlier this week, proudly boasting of its victories in two categories at the Moneyfacts personal finance awards 2008, which judged performance over the previous year.

“Best monthly interest account provider” and “best no-notice internet account provider”. Tough fought categories, no doubt. But I hesitate to suggest that Moneyfacts’ definition of ‘no-notice’ probably wasn’t a reference to the amount of time savers had to withdraw their funds before the bank hit the rocks.

Moneyfacts analyst Michelle Slade says they don’t publish the full judging criteria, to prevent product providers from manipulating the results. And she reckons, with some understatement, that the 2009 Moneyfacts awards will be “interesting”.

“Well, for one thing, providers have to have been there for the full year to qualify for the awards. I think it’s going to be very different next year.”

One industry shindig where the ‘kiss of death’ tag is probably well deserved, though for the organiser rather than the award recipients, is the Bradford & Bingley Personal Finance Media Awards.

Usually held in October, gongs go to personal finance journalists who are deemed to have excelled in the previous year – perhaps this time they’d go to those hacks who predicted the demise of some of the High Street’s great names like, er, Bradford & Bingley?

Chance would be a fine thing, however. It seems that prospects for this year’s awards do, which would have been the 22nd annual bash, are not that great. A B&B spokeswoman is non-committal: “It’s all under review,” she tells me. “There will be a decision in the next couple of days. The awards might not take place in their current format,” she says. No kidding.

This article appeared on the Reuters.co.uk website in October 2008.

On the ropes

Years of cold beach holidays in Cornwall made me long for something more adventurous this year and with growing children the thought of a sports holiday appealed. It was only when my vague promise of a repeat visit to the south-west was met with howls of derision from my two children (‘It’s so cold’. ‘It’s really boring just sitting on the sand.’) that I decided to act.

After ruling out a number of options, including Italy (too expensive), the USA (too far for a short break), and France (been there many times) we settled on Slovenia. Continue reading

Pensions misery for millions

Millions of Britons expect their pensions to be worth less than they expected when they took the policies out. And more than eight out of ten Britons contributing to a pension, some 16.7m people, expect a shortfall in the value of their policies when they retire.

If people’s worst fears are realised, pensioners will be £159bn worse off. The headline figure sounds dramatic but reflects a growing gulf in the actual value of pension plans against the projected value when they first took them out. Continue reading

Kids on the piste

Skiing with kids is always a challenge, not just because the little darlings learn how to whizz down slopes much more quickly than their parents do, but for the occasional difficulty of finding suitable apres-ski activities.

Resorts like Val D’Isere struggle to cater for families because they’re so tuned in to the needs of older teenagers and twentysomethings, for whom a copious supply of alcohol and loud discos are the order of the day. Continue reading