I was just about to diversify my savings into a newly-opened Icesave ISA this evening. Boy, am I glad it took me a while to get round to it. Now to try and guess analyse the best place for my money.

One-Time Pad Irritation

NatWest have recently introduced a one-time pad device on their on-line banking system, which I’ve just got my hands on. As someone who travels a lot, it’s going to be an inconvenience to carry around, so I phoned up NatWest to see if I could have it disabled. The chap I spoke to implied it was being introduced by all UK banks in one form or another and wasn’t going to be optional.

Wagamama Authorisation

Two recent visits to Wagamama (outstanding noodle bars - give them a try if you haven’t already) have uncovered a strange habit: when asking for the bill, it’s brought immediately to your table, with a slip asking for the tip and a signature. Once this is filled in, your credit card is taken away briefly - presumably to be swiped. But no further signature is required, and even more surprisingly no PIN number is requested.

Free Banking Update

After writing a few months ago about how bank customers were reneging on the contracts they signed and suing their banks for ‘illegal’ bank charges, it appears that free banking is indeed in danger, with HSBC introducing a monthly fee. I’m glad to see that they won’t be charging them to those account holders with balances greater than £1,500 (read: those who rarely encounter fees anyway), but it’ll still be interesting to see how this shakes up the market.

Steve Forbes @ London Junto @ Lansdowne Club @ Mayfair

Richard and I went to see Steve Forbes (of Forbes magazine fame) speaking last night at an event organised by The London Junto (a libertarianish organisation). The topic was flat taxes, and Forbes made a compelling argument for one - albeit probably preaching to the converted. Forbes has to be one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever seen speak - he dealt with economics, business, and geopolitical questions with equal capability, forthrightness, and clarity.

Woolwich from Winchester

Just before a trip to London a few days ago, I inserted my Woolwich card in an ATM near Winchester Station. I hit the ‘balance on screen’ button, and saw ‘your card issuer has declined your request’. A bit mysterious. I don’t normally keep much money in that account, but obviously I still wanted to make sure that someone wasn’t in the process of stealing it. So I phoned up the ’lost and stolen’ line on the back of the card and explained the problem.

Zopa Away!

I’ve just signed up for an account with Zopa, a UK-based peer-to-peer money lending market (for a similar US-based site, see Prosper). It’s going to be a few weeks before I can seed my Zopa account with some capital to lend, but the concept looks absolutely fascinating (as well as potentially lucrative), and I can’t wait to see how well it turns out. It looks like it has the potential to cause some disruption to a part of the financial market in the same way as Paypal did, and I hope it does well.

The Consequences of Travel Delay

A train I was on from Winchester to London yesterday was delayed because of faulty doors on another train. In fact, at one point, we actually managed to go backwards for a few miles to get to usable track. Despite sitting stationary for 15 minutes whilst the signalmen dithered and ending up almost half an hour late, South West Trains didn’t mention provide any reparations for passengers on the train. By contrast, my experiments in travelling by coach recently (primarily on National Express) have been very promising; they are cheaper than the train and surprisingly reliable for road-based transport.

End of Free Banking?

It appears that there are increasing numbers of customers revolting against bank charges which they deem as ‘unfair’. It appears that the law states that these charges are indeed illegal, because they cover more than just the costs the banks incur. In other words, banks are not allowed to make a profit on these charges. This is awkward because it artifically distorts the marketplace. It would be useful for banks to put in place high charges to discourage customers from using unauthorised overdrafts, keeping too small a balance for regular transactions, etc.

Do you know how much money you've got?

One of the things I like to do is keep track of my own personal finances. Knowing how much money you have at any one time, what your debts are (in my case, credit card balances), what your outgoings are, etc., has several advantages: You can foresee and more easily overcome cash-flow problems, enabling you to avoid those ‘a bit short this month’ problems. You can spot unwelcome trends in your spending patterns, and plan better for the future.