Tuesday, 20 December 2016

It's Christmas Let's Twist and Sprout

This chilly Monday morning a sea of low grey clouds are sleeping peacefully on their bed, or as we would call it “London”. No sign of movement. No sign of getting up and letting the sun shine warmly down upon us. Just fluffy London clouds, calmly stretching far across the Monday morning landscape, peacefully sleeping, oblivious to the London traffic thundering on below.

That’s a rather poetic view I think, but then again as a former banker you would expect me to have a gentle poetic side to my nature. In fact, please allow me to share with you this heart-warming banking poem:

Your bank account is overdrawn,
You’ve spent the lot, the money’s gone,
With interest added debt enlarges,
And just for fun I’ve slapped on charges!

Can’t you just feel the Christmas spirit flooding out from those lines? However it is not this kind of poetry I am referring to, but the poetry of seeing clouds as sleeping, fluffy entities enjoying their rest. You may be wondering if I have started on the Christmas sherry a little bit too early today, but seriously I haven’t. There is method in my madness as I shall now explain.

I started the ‘lending banker’ segment of my career looking after personal borrowing. Every morning I would go through the accounts and make decisions on accounts that had exceeded their limits. Normally a letter about curbing some retail excesses would suffice to get things back on track, though at times it wasn’t so easy. Genuine hardship can befall anyone; sometimes of our own making and sometimes not.

Christmas was a time when a lot of self-generated debt came about. You might think this was the result of extravagance, or an inability to manage money, and you would be right. Usually though it was because people genuinely wanted to give somebody a happy Christmas. They just wanted things to be nice, and their generosity of spirit clouded their financial judgment. I met many decent, genuine people who had walked themselves in to debt this way, and it can be heart-breaking to see.

I didn’t want to see my daughter get in to debt when she was older so I came up with an idea. It was raining one Saturday afternoon – a pleasant gentle autumn rain – and I took her out in to the garden and asked her to show me what she could see, hear and smell. A garden in the rain can be really beautiful if you look, and I explained to her that beauty and happiness does not have to come in a box, or need batteries or cost lots of money. It is there all around us, and it’s free.

Did my cunning plan work? Well since then many years have passed, and my daughter has had more CDs, DVDs, and computer games than I can remember. However, she has grown up with the awareness of money I had hoped for, and she has never wasted money or got in to debt. Most of all she is content with her lot. There is an old Scots saying that applied: if you can’t get what you want then want what you’ve got. This works for her.

So this Christmas I would urge you to heed these words from an ageing (but still extremely good looking) former lending banker: spend a little, make someone happy and keep someone in a job, but equally spend just a little less and sleep peacefully at night. Season’s greetings everyone!

Graham Harman-Baker

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