Mr YFG needs your advice and some other odds and ends

Hello loyal readers. I’ve got a favour to ask. I’m looking for a bit of advice on the content of the blog. In short, what types of posts do you enjoy reading the most? What content brings you to my blog? What contents keeps you reading?

Some background on why I’m asking. I usually aim to write two posts a week. One being on a ‘technical subject’ (like this week’s on the Lifetime Allowance) and one on FI or other related subjects. Recently, there’s been more of tilt towards the technical subjects. That’s because I generally find them easier to write. I find that I often stumble into writer’s block with FI posts. I think that’s for two reasons. Firstly, there’s already so much good content out there that I feel I’m just rehashing the same things others’ have already said. Secondly, when I write ‘my journey’ type-stories I can’t help but feel a bit self-indulgent.

I guess what I’m asking loyal readers is: Am I over thinking this? Do you still enjoy reading FI posts even if it covers familiar ground? Do you like hearing me talk about my journey (or conversely do you think I should keep it to myself?

Please do share your thoughts in a comment. I’d really like to know your collective thoughts.

Odds and ends

There are a few things over the past week or two I’d like to comment on. I don’t think, as yet, that I can write a ‘full length’ post on them. So I’ve bundled them together to share today.

Carillion

A few weeks back the Work and Pensions and BEIS parliamentary committees released their long await report on the Carillion mess. I was very much looking forward to it, both from a professional point of view and a personal one. I have to say that I was very disappointed in the quality of the report. My biggest disappointment was the lack of detailed research or analysis in the report.

There was no analysis of the accounts. No critical review of the advisors’ work. Nor any basic research into any industry practices. I had hoped to read a bit about invoice factoring as Carillion was a known abuser of credit terms in the industry. Instead, we were given broad statements sourced from Investopedia.

Likewise, the summary of the report was: everyone is to blame except us MPs who write the laws. Much criticism was given to the regulators (The Pensions Regulator and Financial Reporting Council) but from what I gather they have both been doing their job. The limit on their powers seems to be, at least to me, because MPs are reluctant to give non-government bodies strong powers. That doesn’t mean they are perfect, both could do with reacting quicker to ‘blow-ups’. But their ability to do real investigatory work requires much more money (and better staff) than both the government and the market are willing to pay for (read Serious Fraud Office).

That said, there are big issues with the quality of audits. Although I really don’t think conflicts of interest or the big 4 oligopoly is to blame. [For disclosure I have worked both for one of the big 4 and for a non-big 4 competitor]. In summary, the report really felt like a “we’ve made our minds up, now let’s find the evidence to fit that narrative”.

The Pensions Mountain

Royal London / Steve Webb released their latest policy paper: “Will we ever summit the pension mountain?” The headline was that you “need” a £260,000 pension to maintain current living standards,up from £150,000 16 years ago. That headline grabbed a lot of attention. But the underlying numbers less so. The £260,000 is based on a person aged 65 making up a shortfall between the state pension and the average UK income (£26,728). The analysis also assumed retirement would bring cost savings such as: no longer having to pay a mortgage, not contributing into a pension and the end of work-related costs. Therefore, the analysis suggested workers can retire on two-thirds of UK average earnings (£17,819). The shortfall being £9,273.

Putting aside the question marks on the assumptions, the report suggested a 65-year-old could buy an index-linked annuity for £9,273 at 3.56% (£260,000 = £9,273 / 3.56% rounded). I’ve got to be frank: I read this in a sanguine way. That 3.56% seems like a pretty good deal to me (most in the FI community use a 4% SWR). An inflation-protected, guaranteed 3.56% for life seems pretty darn good (I know that’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison). Saving £260,000 over c.50 years of working seems pretty manageable. The elephant in the room is, of course, housing costs. Saving £260,000 and having a mortgage-free home is a bit more challenging. And that’s the key message from the report. We can fiddle with pensions and incentivising savers as much as we want, but housing is still the elephant in the room.

The Monetary Policy Committee and boardroom diversity

Yesterday, the MPC announced the appointment of the latest member of the committee (Jonathan Haskel). To very little surprise in some quarters it was, once again, a white middle-aged bloke. The timing could not have been much worse. The day before, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released the mid-way report on promoting greater gender diversity in the boardrooms of our listed companies. To accompany the release, they set out a top-10 worst reasons companies gave for not including more female members to their board. (Such as, “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn“).

Maybe Prof Haskel is the most qualified person for the job. But when you have 19 members, 18 of which are men; and you interview 5 candidates and select the only male interviewee, questions are going to be asked. The trouble is, time and time again, we see questionable appointments of people to public decision-making roles (remember the Toby Young fiasco?) Too often, the reason given for these appointments are: “they are the best candidate” or “they have the best fit” or “their objectives in the role are aligned to ours“. All these reasons really boil down to: “they look like us, talk like us and think like us“. Nazir Afzal hit the nail on the head for me:

Too often, it’s the cronies or the familiar faces who get the nod. Where we are appointing people to oversight and decision-making roles we should be setting out the precise reasons why. No hiding behind platitudes or weasel words. Until this intellectual honesty becomes part of the game, women (and other minorities in society) will continue to be short-changed.

All the best,

Young FI Guy

Comments

  1. Dude, it’s your baby, your site. You wont stick it out beyond the short term unless you really like doing it & for that to happen, go with what feels good for you, not arbitrary targets or rigid topical boundaries. Write when you feel like it, on what you feel like, so the passion & therefore quality will be sustained – if you are over-sensitive to reader opinion you wont please everyone anyway; the readers should be adults, so if they don’t like a topic/aren’t interested, hey, just don’t read it.

    I suggest you could have a little section where people could request topics/subjects for you to do an article or even just comment on ……& you could keep an eye on that list for inspiration only. [no obligation to fulfil every option] That might help with ideas & also to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new. Your little current news roundup with a paragraph opinion piece on each issue was good – maybe you could do that periodically if the amount of fresh material warranted.

    1. Haha thanks Survivor. You sound like Mrs YFG. I like the idea of a requests page. I’ll look into that. It’ll also mean I have a list write down properly and not on a bunch of post it notes! Thanks for the feedback on the roundup today. It was refreshing for me to write something a bit shorter and punchier than I have been recently.

  2. Articles on other ‘complicated’ topics would be useful to me like how dividend allowance works on unwrapped investments or what to do once you go beyond a simple tracker fund in terms of investment size

  3. Hi YFG – I like a mix of both kinds of post, technical and personal.

    IMO the more personal posts give the blog “a voice” and make all the content more interesting and less dry. Without that aspect it can end up like Monevator, which is a great resource, but I don’t feel any connection to the blogger(s) so it can be a bit dull.

    I liked the topical comment piece in this post – that worked well.

  4. As @Survivor put it, it’s your blog, just write about what you enjoy writing about. I enjoy reading both kinds of posts you write (including Mrs YFG’s posts). I like the detail you go into for your technical posts without them descending into waffle or getting too complicated.Also liked the Odds and Ends you added – great reads, thanks.

    1. Hi Weenie. Glad to hear. I genuinely think there is an audience for mosts that are a bit more challenging (than, say, stop buying frappucinos!). Finding the balance in those posts is the tricky bit, but so far I seem to be striking the right note (I hope!)

  5. > I usually aim to write two posts a week.

    That is a punishing schedule. It’s OK if you are seeing a return on your blog, ‘cos then it’s work, but otherwise, I suggest chill 😉

    Me, I’d rather see more of your story, because your situation is unusual, I like the narrative and seeing how others who got a clue earlier in life than I play the game, but many of the technical parts are still interesting. There’s a dynamic tension between the two aspects, which isn’t bad at all. You have a nice writing style IMO.

    1. Thanks Ermine! Valuable advice from a wise-old head… I do enjoy writing, although getting in the ‘mood’ can be difficult. Twice a week has been generally working. Though my freelance gig has been quiet over the past few months, when that picks up again I might need to rethink. I’m glad you suggest chilling, one thing that seemed to be hammered around on the internet was “YOU MUST KEEP A SCHEDULE OR THE WORLD WILL END”. Glad to know that’s probably a load of guff.

  6. Hi, first time poster. I would echo that you should write about what you like. Recently there have been a couple of FI blogs I enjoyed that have petered out and it would be a shame if this became too much of a chore for you. Personally, I enjoy the more personal side of your journey. I understand why you might feel a bit self indulgent, however for me its a key reason why I visit your blog. I think I’m of a similar age as you and its interesting to see what you have achieved. If you’re taking requests then I’d like to see more of the nuts and bolts i.e. how you track returns, forecasting etc. That being said, the technical posts are superb and while much of it goes over my head (and is a pipe dream – I don’t think I’ll be threatening the LTA anytime soon!), I have enjoyed them nonetheless. So thank you and keep up the good work!

  7. Hi YFG

    I probably lean towards your technical posts, but like others said write about what interests you.

    2 posts a week is good going. I’ve been struggling recently even to do one, but Mrs FU is putting the pressure on me as she has posted more recently. She keeps saying she is taking over my blog from me so I better get writing!

  8. Hi YFG, really love your posts. If you are ok with twice a week, that’s great. But have you considered joining forces with the monevator. I am sure they would benefit from some succession planning and could confer upon the title of The Successor 😀. Jokes apart, I too think you should just write what you please. If I ask you for some topics I would only be telling you that I know I don’t know. As a reader it’s good to be surprised with a post on something I did not know I did not know at all.

    1. Thanks Amit, that’s very kind!

      I’d love to collaborate with The Investor at Monevator, but that’s up to him. I’m still very much a newbie and it is high praise indeed to be mentioned in the same sentence as him!

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