Is it an energy drink? Is it a measure of electricity? Is it an endangered tree frog?
No, it’s an Isa. A financial product that’s been around for nearly 20 years but still not fully grasped by, frankly, anyone in the UK.
You would think that by now everyone would be up on the whole Isa groove thang, what with there being seven (count ’em) different types of them. Yes, there are seven different Isa possibilities on the market, even though most of us have as much knowledge of their rules as Nigel Farage has of customs tariffs.
For starters there’s the plain old ordinary Cash Isa, which most people treat like a sort of exotic pet, nervously left in the corner in case it bites.
There’s the baby Jisa – vaguely in the consciousness of some parents though, again, viewed rather like a novelty item that your nan left you which you keep in the faint and unconvinced hope that it might be valuable one day.
And for a while, that was it. But then we went Isa-tastic from 2015, bringing in the Help to Buy Isa, the Lisa (Lifetime Isa), the Flexible Isa and Innovative Finance Isa.
Next time I go to shout at the Treasury Committee I’ll ask them if we could have a breather for a moment so that we can get a bit of knowledge of this strange family – maybe in the form of some educational TV programmes like Isa Big Brother – let’s see which one survives the Parliamentary Committee – or I’m an Isa, Get Me Out of Here, where viewers vote on the least attractive Isa to throw out of the tax office.
We need help understanding these creatures. Just last year, this august publication pointed out that less than half the UK population understand the Isa rules.
Not only that, but this year the take-up of Isas dropped to an 18-year low as the average Cash Isa rate sunk to a gutbusting 0.88%.
It did boost investments into Stocks and Shares Isas, which I approve of. Subscriptions hit a record £28.7 billion in the 2017/18 tax year, up from £22.3 billion last year. But it’s still nothing like what we could be putting in if we understood the value of these tax-free savings.
Not for the first time, though, I find myself asking if we should be setting up a campaign to protect an endangered species. This time: the beleaguered Lisa. It’s already in danger from political poachers.
Just a month or so ago, a parliamentary committee suggested scrapping Lisas because, they said, the take-up was low. Well, yes. I have yet to meet a millennial (the people they’re aimed at) who has even heard of a Lisa, let alone taken one out.
But that’s not the real reason for the slating. I think Lisas are hated by some political types because they were brought in by former Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-Chancellor George Osborne, and anything they touched is now seen as toxic. They won’t admit it, I bet, but you can imagine the grumblings among the Johnson, Gove and Davis camps.
So maybe we should bring in yet more Isa products to circle around the wounded and limping Lisa and protect it from the Treasury snipers.
I have yet to meet a millennial who has even heard of a Lisa
Here are some suggestions, just off the top of my head.
The Nisa – with this one, your money is invested in local stores.
The Misa – this is open to cats only, or cat owners. Dogs may not apply. Free fur balls with every deposit.
The Home Alone Isa – only small boys who can fend off comedy burglars get to invest in this one. There’s a special bonus at Christmas, though.
The Pisa – a rather wobbly investment, but it seems to have held fast for a few centuries, so worth a viewing.
The Brexit Isa – no-one has a clue what this one does or how much it will make, but it will be marvellous when it matures and better than anyone else’s Isa, just you wait and see.
The De-Icer – that’s a product that will take the ice off… oh hang on, wrong list.
I bet you have some genius Isa ideas yourself. Come join my campaign and send me ideas for new and glamorous Isas. Together we will save this beautiful young creature and set it free to roam into the wilds of the UK economy (she says, wiping an emotional tear from her eye).
JASMINE BIRTLES is a financial journalist and founder of MoneyMagpie.com.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.