Richard Stone, our Chief Executive, highlights how the Prime Minister should help the personal investor following the General Election.
An open letter to the Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister
Many congratulations on your re-election as Prime Minister and on securing the largest Conservative Majority since 1987. The result will bring stability and certainty to the UK political landscape and economy for the foreseeable future. That stability and a clear sense of direction will be welcomed by our customers and personal investors across the UK, who have had to navigate stagnant markets and political indecision for the last three and a half years.
I am writing to you as the Chief Executive of The Share Centre, one of the UK’s leading independent personal investment platforms. We provide custody and trading services to over 300,000 personal investors in the UK through our own brand and website, www.share.com, as well as for third party partners.
From the very inception of our business, in the early 1990s, we have been strong advocates for the interests of personal investors and we regularly ask our customers for their views. As personal investors there are a number of key steps which they will undoubtedly be hoping you will use your new and powerful mandate to deliver. Before turning to those it is though worth looking at a broader context.
Since the financial crash in 2008 the monetary policy response centred on low interest rates has resulted in greater concentration of investment returns in the hands of private capital. There are a range of data points supporting this but perhaps most telling is the number of quoted companies on the stock market has roughly halved over the last ten years.
There needs to be a reinvigoration of the capital markets and a renewed emphasis on mass participation and ownership. The example set by BT giving shares to all their staff is one recent demonstration of what can be done. Requiring stock market flotations to have a public or retail element, as used to be the case, would be another. To close the wealth gap and earn the long term support of those voters who turned to the Conservatives this time, means taking action to engage them in the prosperity of the UK economy once Brexit is done.
Our customers were clear in asking for three things from the political parties in the run up to the General Election, although disappointingly none of the parties made any particular mention of investment or personal investors in their manifestos. Personal investors play a key role in providing capital particularly to SMEs which form the engine room of the UK economy.
Our customers want to see a greater emphasis being placed on financial education and awareness. This goes hand in hand with the broader point above about opening up access to capital and widening ownership within the economy. We need to see a real focus on financial education within the school curriculum with teachers properly trained to deliver the material and not being left to cover these vital topics as part of the Mathematics or PSHE curricula. We believe this will only be properly delivered by having a mandated financial awareness GCSE as only by establishing such a qualification, and suitable versions already exist but are not widely adopted, will this be taken seriously.
Our customers also want to see the Government commit to stability in the tax system. The Individual Savings Account (ISA) regime has been at the heart of the savings and investment landscape for many years now and needs to continue to be supported. Indeed we believe there are some ways in which it could be simplified and its take up increased including through workplace incentivised savings. The pension system has been subject to continuous tinkering and change which acts to discourage individuals from taking that long term investing decision.
This then brings me to the final request which is for greater incentives to encourage the next generation to save and invest. As I noted earlier the wealth gap has grown considerably and it is also a gap which is exaggerated by age with a greater concentration of wealth among the more mature parts of the population. That demographic is highly conscious of the need for future generations to be encouraged to save and invest more for their and their families financial futures.
To conclude I would just highlight one specific opportunity which is aligned with the next five years of your Government. That is the Child Trust Fund. The first recipients of their sum of money turn 18 this coming September and will start to take ownership of those accounts in full. Over the next ten years some six million young adults will reach 18 and should find themselves in possession of a maturing Child Trust Fund. This involves total assets which run into billions of pounds and can act as the seeding of many of the initiatives noted above, not least around financial education and encouraging a habit of saving and investing. Unfortunately, approximately one third of such accounts are lost to the families concerned, particularly the most disadvantaged, and require re-linking. I would urge you, as one of the first measures given the pressing deadline approaching, to grasp the Child Trust Fund initiative and use it as the vehicle to deliver improved financial participation among this generation. This is an opportunity which is all the more important for those young people in areas of the country which have been more economically disadvantaged over the last ten years and whose families, this time, have chosen to place their confidence in a Conservative Government.
I wish you well in all your endeavours as Prime Minister. It is a huge responsibility and the people have placed their trust in you to deliver, and to deliver not just for the traditional Conservative voter but for all those who voted Conservative in historically Labour strongholds as well. I believe the General Election result provides a huge opportunity. By grasping a new vision of capitalism and re-energising mass participation in capital so that individuals can take control of their financial futures and participate in the success of the businesses they work for and interact with, then we will truly be able to unleash the potential of this country and all it has to offer.
These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre as a whole.