Scotland takes the high road to advice

It appears the Scots have suddenly become more savvy about finance. The second annual Advice Map from unbiased.co.uk has revealed a few surprise developments since last year, hinting at a seismic shift in awareness for some parts of the UK. But why?

wpid-Featured_Picture124-620x413

Last year heralded the first unbiased.co.uk Advice Map. This revealed the places in the UK where most people (as a percentage of population) searched for financial advice – and also the areas with the lowest proportion of advice-seekers. Now we have a second map based on this year’s searches, and it shows some intriguing changes in the advice landscape.

Things were steady at number one, with Truro comfortably the UK’s top advice hotspot, and the top ten were largely familiar. But there was a striking new top-ten entry in the form of Motherwell, a surge by Kilmarnock from tenth place to fourth – and a major upheaval in the bottom ten, with Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow all rising off this list. What is going on? Can it be that something was happening in Scotland?

Scotland decides…

Oh yes, the independence referendum. For many months in advance the headlines were full of it, compelling every Scottish resident at least to think about where they stood in the debate. Even those who didn’t fall into the Yes or No camps had to contemplate how their lives might change. This was no short-term election; it was to be permanent. In short, every Scot faced up to their future as never before.

It’s hard not to see a link. In considering their nation, the Scottish people had to consider their personal circumstances too. They asked, ‘Will I be better or worse off in an independent Scotland?’ – and since both campaigns played heavily on the economic aspects, that question became a financial one. Compounding this were the warnings from some financial services providers that they might move their operations to England in the event of a Yes vote. And of course there were the rumours of mass exoduses of businesses and investments, of share prices collapsing, of plagues of locusts and so on. Some of it may have been scaremongering, but it had one important side-effect. It got folk thinking.

What makes an advice hotspot?

For context, let’s head down to the place where seeking advice is most popular. This year nearly one in 10 of the residents of Truro searched for a financial adviser. Does this mean the Cornish are more clued-up about finance? As it turns out, there are other possible reasons.

Truro is a pretty city in one of the most picturesque corners of England. Economically thriving, it offers more than twice as many jobs as there are residents, creating huge demand for housing in a city with limited capacity. These pressures push house prices around 8 per cent higher than in the rest of Cornwall. So the people who can afford to live in Truro tend to be wealthier than average, and are also (we may imagine) quite interested in mortgage advice. The city also attracts a lot of people in their retirement, for whom pensions advice may well be on the cards.

Other top-ten cities include Salisbury, Bath and Cambridge, fitting the pattern of desirable places in which to live, work and retire, and which tend to have a wealthier demographic as a result. But this isn’t the same as what happened this year in Scotland. The Scottish people did not become richer overnight – but they might have become more self-aware.

Time to take control

We may never know for sure if the referendum was a factor in more Scots seeking advice. But what is indisputable is that we will all, sooner or later, face our own independence day. One day, we will have to become independent from our paid career, and survive on our own resources, our pensions, savings and investments. How well will we handle that independence? The choice we face is a simple Yes or No: do we plan for our own future?