My interest in personal finance dates back to the 1980s and was sparked by my failed accountancy exams and Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation programme.
Although Mum and Dad would not speak to me for six months after I told them accountancy firm Price Waterhouse was not quite my cup of tea, I quietly started to carve out a career for myself as a money journalist.
While my parents were still telling their friends down at the local pub that I was making great progress at PW with my mix of skilful double entry and forensic company audits, I was in fact quietly writing financial articles for local and national newspapers.
Maureen Lipman’s Beattie was one of my driving forces, encouraging the nation to buy shares in BT while speaking on the phone to her grandson Anthony about his horrendous exam results.
I was captivated by the whole privatisation era and the thought of people making money by investing in the stock market. This fascination is why I have spent most of my working life writing about money – and will probably end my days with a pen in my hand.
You can argue until the cows come home whether privatisation has been a success – Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has already promised to reverse swathes of it.
But the fact remains that Mrs Thatcher got millions of people thinking about investing, probably for the first time in their lives. Without privatisations and tax-friendly Personal Equity Plans (no longer around) and Individual Savings Accounts (Isas, which are very much with us), I doubt whether we would be the nation of investors that we are today.
Yet how we invest has changed in the past 30 to 35 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, I had a dedicated drawer in my home office for my share certificates – and I would trot down to the bank near work if I wanted to sell any shares, certificate in hand.
If I bought or sold any unit trusts or investment trusts, I would trade them directly – through the management company. It worked well enough although it was a little messy on the paperwork front.
Online investment platforms have transformed the way we go about investing.
Now we can hold all our investments under one roof, see up-to-date valuations of our holdings at the press of a button, and trade whenever we want to, buying from right across the market – be it shares in a leading FTSE 100-listed company, such as BT, or a small stake in a long-established investment trust, such as Foreign & Colonial (founded in 1868 and still going strong).
We can have our investments on the platform held within the tax-friendly cocoon of a pension (a self-invested personal pension or Sipp), an Isa or as part of an investment portfolio.
In my mind, there is no other way to manage an investment portfolio. With a little prompting from myself, my eldest son (a successful 27-year-old football coach at a Championship football team) now holds his pension on an investment platform.
These platforms – run by the likes of Hargreaves Lansdown, interactive investor (the parent company of Moneywise) and AJ Bell – are improving all the time. Not only in terms of making the act of investing easier, but by providing more information that investors can embrace and act upon.
For example, interactive has just launched its ‘Super 60’ list to help investors search for best-in-market investment funds, investment trusts and exchange-traded funds – 60 investments that are competitively priced and competently managed.
In a similar vein, Hargreaves has launched its ‘wealth 50’ list, while AJ Bell is experimenting with the use of videos to bring to life some of the people behind the investment funds investors can buy.
What excites me just as much is the recent launch of cash savings platforms that provide savers with access to top-paying deposit accounts from a range of providers – again under one roof.
Flagstone, Hargreaves Lansdown, Octopus and Raisin UK are leading the way in this new online development. In time, these platforms will negate the need for people to traipse down the high street in search of a competitive savings account.
The next step is for all-in-one financial platforms that give us access to best-in-market savings accounts and investment funds under one roof, allowing us to take advantage of the tax breaks on offer with pensions and Isas.
Although we are not quite there yet, we are edging ever closer to this personal finance utopia. Thank you, Maggie. Thank you, Beattie.
Jeff Prestridge is the personal finance editor of The Mail on Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.