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Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form

Martin Stewart

August 26, 2021

martin stewart

Martin Stewart is director of London Money

What was purchased around two million times last year, has been underpinned by cheap and easy credit, and has seen prices increase significantly during the pandemic?

That’s right, cars.

Spoiler alert: this article has not been written by a petrol head. In fact, I am about as far from being mechanically minded as you can get. If I came out in the morning to find a flat tyre, it would be easier and quicker for me to sell the car than it would be to try and fix it.

In the time I have owned my current vehicle I have yet to ‘pop the bonnet’. In fact, I don’t even know how to pop the bonnet. There could be a family of Dodos nesting under there for all I know.

My first car was a Talbot Horizon the dashboard lights of which wouldn’t always go off even after I had taken the keys out of the ignition. After that, my relationship with cars went quickly downhill. Unfortunately, the same could never be said for the Talbot Horizon.

So, you can imagine my nervousness as the deal on my current car draws to a close. I am from the generation where all problems could be solved with TCP, not a PCP, so the idea of having to renegotiate a new one filled me with dread.

But I pulled on my big boy pants and popped into the showroom and sat down with Brandon, who proceeded to say something like this:

“Have you thought about the new Nissan Somethingorother? It has the latest auxiliary bumthruster, it has ACC, AWD and a smidgen of OCD. It comes with TVs, DSG and David Bowie LPs. It’s got wipers, dampers, laser beams for clampers and leather seats from a mush in Shepherds bush bush bush.”

At least, that’s what it sounded like. This went on for about 20 minutes, after which I was left with the only question I could think of:

“What colours do you have?”

Because the reality is, I have zero interest in what a car can actually do. I don’t want a car, I need a car, and there is a big difference between the two.

The reason I am telling you this, is because me buying a car is the same as a client taking a mortgage. They don’t actually want one, they need one, and just like Brandon, we are all guilty of speaking a language we think the consumer wants to hear when the reality is, it is all going in one ear and out the other.

And just like Brandon, we have been corrupted by years of training, micro-management and regulation to the point where we can never be a consumer of the products we actually market. We know too much to be able to talk normally to normal people about what we do.

This got me thinking about language and engagement, and my belief is we need to significantly improve both. Clients don’t care about economics, inflation or industry abbreviation.

As a sector, we need to rotate away from explaining the criteria and more about telling the story – yes, I know Adam Hosker (@adam_hosker), we still need to provide that information.

For those that follow the independent financial adviser (IFA) community you will have seen, since the Retail Distribution Review (RDR), a distinct shift away from product recommendation to a more holistic, intensely personal and much more satisfying form of considerate coaching with the sole intention of enhancing their clients wellbeing.

We can learn a lot from that. Look around the websites in our sector and most lead heavily with best buy tables, criteria definitions and calculators. There are very few stories, whys or wherefores.

The title of this article is a quote from Jean-Luc Goddard, and encapsulates exactly the point I am trying to make. Take out the complexity and we are left with very simple products.

At TMG we are looking at developing a new consumer facing website and we plan on doing it differently.

I have set our developers a task, every time I see the word ‘mortgage’ I will deduct 20% off of their invoice. I am only half joking with them when I say that six mentions and they will end up owing ME money.

Yes, it’s a gamble and might not work, but real progress comes from the endeavours of those that are prepared to take the path less well travelled by others.

Anyway, back to Brandon. I am pleased to say that he got his well-deserved sale and I will soon be the brand new tenant of a Nissan Somethingorother. If, when I pick it up, it is grey and has a wheel in all four corners, I will be more than happy.

I did include one optional extra, the ejector seat, so if  you see the wife out and about please keep that information to yourself.


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