A finance fetish you’re not allowed to understand: Reporting on the Budget

Working in finance means you have to be obsessed with the Budget – and its little sister speech, the Autumn Statement. This year’s Budget, given that it was a platform for the government to deliver crucial pre-Election fodder and entice the voting public to swing Tory, upped the stakes even more.

osborne mania

So did the world stop still for those 64 minutes when the Chancellor announced the UK GDP projections, unleashed his strategy for reducing the national debt and unfurled his spending plans for the next 12 months like a royal banner? No. To most it is a non-event. But to anyone working in finance or media, it is everything. You see, we’re a weird bunch and we listen to no one when told…

A closed shop of fanatical fuddy-duddies

It’s a bizarre time of year. The most powerful industries on the planet – finance, media and politics – swarm in unison to soak up every word the Chancellor utters and lather maniacally at the government’s detailed future spending plans. Meanwhile, literally no one else cares.

The great British public, the people to whom it should matter the most, can’t be bothered. They’re not interested or engaged. They understand very little of the jargon and macroeconomic bamboozlings. They have far more pressing concerns in life, such as how their kids are doing at school, how they’re going to pay the bills, why they’re having relationship problems, or whether they can afford to get pissed on Saturday night and afford a kebab on the way home.

Fallacy rules

Working in finance marketing, I am sucked in to the whole charade. On Budget day, we all clamour round our desks early in the morning, forming an impromptu ‘war room’. We tweet pictures of ourselves in said war room. Then we scan the war room pictures of every other finance company on twitter. We’re all the same.

We compile summary notes of Budget predictions from all the tier 1 newspapers and media outlets. We gather quotes for later use and discuss the angles we will take as a brand in the financial services industry. If George says X, we will say this. If George says Y, we will say that.

Newsroom war room

We have it all covered. We’re so clever. We’ll be the fastest out of the blocks with our reaction. We’ll be first to produce a customer email that explains all of the key salient points from Osborne’s speech and highlights some of the possible ramifications for them. Except we don’t. And we’re not that clever.

A load of rubbish

Every finance company under the sun produces the same old guff and no one can convey it in a way that gains genuine cut-through and gives real meaning to the masses. Twitter is awash with re-tweets of the Chancellor’s big announcements and boring, safe corporate opinion on it all. ‘Osborne’ is trending, as are ‘GDP’, ‘lifetime allowance’ and ‘inheritance tax’. They’re trending because there are so many people from the same old industries chewing it up and spewing it all out again. The real world is nowhere to be seen. They’re in work, down the pub or in a queue at Asda.

Admittedly, some brands do a better job than others. A few pieces of marketing material are slick, swiftly produced and digestible. But the majority are achingly slow to emerge, covered in caveats and riddled with linguistic snakes.

But most importantly, they don’t relate to real people’s real lives. For all the Chancellor’s blabber about “hard-working British families” and “back to basics”, he – and we – fail to truly connect what’s in his head with what it means to the man and woman and child on the street. It doesn’t help them patch up a failing marriage or tell them they’ll be able to afford a kebab on a Saturday night or even if they’ll be able to pay this month’s gas bill.

The real Budget

Now the dust has settled we can calmly traverse the new paths the Budget has laid out before us. And in truth, there’s not a whole lot of difference. A few more quid in the pocket for the majority. Less for the super-rich. A smidge of help for late teens wanting to save for a house deposit. And a word of warning for anyone with massive pension pots.

That’s it. Job done. Move on. Nothing more to see here. See you at the polling stations in May. Or maybe not…

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