If there is an economic or social problem that the Government needs to fix, call Isa is often the response.
The trusty tax efficient Individual Savings Account, the financial Red Adair that can be relied upon to sort out a crisis or three.
Although Isas were designed to help people build long-term wealth free from the taxman’s clutches, they are now broader financial tools as governments have widened their remit.
Care funding solution? Isas are now broader financial tools as governments have widened their remit
So, if you want to get a foot on the housing ladder there is the Help to Buy Isa, designed to help first-time buyers build a big enough deposit to qualify for a mortgage.
More recently, this has been complemented by the Lifetime Isa. A rather confused product that can either be used to save towards the purchase of a first home or as a retirement fund.
Now, the Government is considering using Red Adair Isa to solve the country’s mounting care crisis. The solution? The Care Isa which would encourage people to put money aside for future care costs.
The Care Isa is not a new idea. It is one that Ros Altmann, former Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, has long trumpeted.
And it has merit especially if, as Altmann proposes, it comes with an assurance that any money not used for care can then be passed on to the next generation free of inheritance tax.
But if it gets the go-ahead, the Government must get it absolutely right from the start. Help to Buy and Lifetime Isas have both been inhibited by ill-conceived rules. The last thing we need is another half-cocked Red Adair Isa.
It is not often that regulators get things right. But the Competition and Markets Authority’s decision to force the biggest banks and building societies to highlight how their customer service standards compare with rivals is a major step in the right direction.
It means you should now be able to walk into your local high street bank – provided you still have one – and see how customers (personal and business) rank it on key issues.
These include the propensity of customers to recommend a current account to family and friends as well as other services such as online, mobile and branch banking.
Sixteen providers of current accounts and 14 suppliers of business banking services must comply with the authority’s edict. How they score can be found by visiting www.gov.uk/cma. Or by popping into your nearest bank.
Unsurprisingly, the likes of First Direct, Metro, Nationwide and Coventry do well on current accounts. Handelsbanken leads the way on business banking.
Early days as they are, the new system will take a while to bed down. A quick walk down Kensington High Street late last week revealed an inconsistent approach in how this data is being displayed.
At Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank’s ridiculous Studio B branch (B presumably standing for Barmy), the information was not visible to the naked eye – not even on the pillar allocated to statutory notices detailing savings rates.
All I was bombarded with were messages asking whether I was beach ready (no, I am a red head) or if I wanted more sand for my castle (no thanks, I have long lost my bucket and spade).
I came out of Studio B thinking that if any bank branch deserved to be closed this would rank highly.
Incidentally, it will not surprise you to learn that Clydesdale comes joint bottom on overall service (personal) and 13th out of 14 for business banking – sister brand Yorkshire fares better. The quicker Studio B, Clydesdale and Yorkshire are absorbed into the Virgin Money brand, the better for mankind.
At Santander, the data on business banking was prominent but not so for personal accounts where only the overall service rankings were available – tucked away with all the bank’s product literature.
The branch assistant assured me full details would flash up on the in-store screen but they never did, much to his chagrin.
Strange because Santander comes out of the analysis smelling of roses.
As for Metro, ranked second overall for both personal and business banking, it only intermittently showed the data on its in-branch screen. Unusual for a bank that never misses a trick in promoting its customer-centricity.
No doubt Vernon Hill, the bank’s larger-than- life chairman, will address this glitch in Red Adair style when he next jets into the UK from his home in the United States.