“Becky?” says Emma, who’s one of the presenters of Morning Coffee and is sitting opposite me on a blue sofa. “This sounds like quite a problem.”
“Absolutely,” I say, dragging my mind back to the present. I glance down at the sheet in front of me, then smile sympathetically at the camera. “So, to recap, Judy, you and your husband Bill have inherited some money. You’d like to invest some of it in the stock market — but he’s refusing.”
“It’s like talking to a brick wall!” comes Judy’s indignant voice. “He says I’ll lose it all, and it’s his money too, and if all I want to do is gamble it away, then I can go to…”
“Yes,” interrupts Emma smoothly. “Well. This does sound quite a problem, Becky. Two partners disagreeing about what to do with their money.”
“I just don’t understand him!” exclaims Judy. “This is our one chance to make a serious investment! It’s a fantastic opportunity! Why can’t he see that?”
She breaks off — and there’s an expectant silence around the studio. Everyone’s waiting for my answer.
“Judy…” I pause thoughtfully. “May I ask a question? What outfit is Bill wearing today?”
“A suit,” says Judy, sounding taken aback. “A gray suit for work.”
“What kind of tie? Plain or patterned?”
“Plain,” says Judy at once. “All his ties are plain.”
“Would he ever wear, say… a polka-dot tie?”
“I see.” I raise my eyebrows. “Judy, would it be fair to say Bill is generally quite an unadventurous person? That he doesn’t like taking risks?”
“Well… yes,” says Judy. “Now that you say it, I suppose he is.”
“Ah!” says Rory suddenly, on the other side of the sofa. Rory is the other presenter of Morning Coffee. He’s very chiseled-looking and is great at flirting with film stars, but he’s not exactly the Brain of Britain. “I think I see where you’re going here, Becky.”
“Yes, thanks Rory,” says Emma, rolling her eyes at me. “I think we all do. So Becky, if Bill doesn’t like risk — are you saying he’s right to avoid the stock market?”
“No,” I reply. “Actually, I’m not saying that at all. Because maybe what Bill isn’t quite seeing is that there’s more than one kind of risk. If you invest in the stock market, yes, you risk losing some money in the short term. But if you simply tuck it away in the bank for years and years, an even greater risk is that this inheritance will be eroded over time by inflation.”
“Aha,” puts in Rory wisely. “Inflation.”
“In twenty years’ time, it could well be worth very little — compared to what it would probably have achieved on the market. So if Bill is only in his thirties and wants to make a long-term investment — although it seems risky, it’s in many ways safer to choose a balanced stock market portfolio.”
“I see!” says Emma, and gives me an admiring look. “I would never have looked at it like that.”
“Successful investment is often simply a question of thinking laterally,” I say, smiling modestly.
I love it when I get the answer right and everyone looks impressed.
“Does that help you, Judy?” says Emma.
“Yes,” says Judy. “Yes, it does! I’ve videotaped this call, so I’ll show it to Bill tonight.”
“Oh right!” I say. “Well, check what kind of tie he’s wearing first.”
Everyone laughs, and I join in after a pause — though I wasn’t actually joking.
“Time for one more quick call,” says Emma. “And we have Enid from Northampton, who wants to know if she’s got enough money to retire on. Enid, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” comes Enid’s voice down the line. “My husband Tony’s recently retired, and I was on holiday last week — just at home with him, cooking and so forth. And he… we got to thinking… how about I retire early, too? But I wasn’t sure I had enough saved up, so I thought I’d call in.”
“What kind of financial provision have you made for retirement, Enid?” I ask.
“I’ve a pension which I’ve contributed to all my life,” says Enid hesitantly, “and I’ve a couple of savings plans… and I’ve a recent inheritance which should see off the mortgage…”
“Well!” says Emma brightly. “Even I can see that you’re pretty well set up, Enid. I’d say, happy retirement!”