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Saga missed a trick: It could cut costs and keep over-50s happy, says JEFF PRESTRIDGE


I’m happy to report that reader Graeme Forsyth’s petition to persuade 50+ specialist Saga to accept a lifetime subscription to his monthly magazine is still gaining ground.

So far, 1,200 people have endorsed it, and readers continue to contact me, outraged at Saga’s decision to renege on the deal.

Saga’s original offering, made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, allowed customers to pay a one-time fee in exchange for the magazine being shipped to them.

But Saga has now reversed the deal, blaming rising printing and shipping costs. Instead of a hard copy, customers have been told they will receive a digital version. Those who wish to continue with the print edition will only be able to do so if they start paying an annual fee of £29.95.

Saga insists that it has not breached the terms of the original lifetime membership that it offered to its clients. This promised “twelve issues of Saga magazine a year for life.”

All At Sea: Petition To Persuade Saga To Honor A Lifetime Subscription To His Monthly Magazine Keeps Gaining Ground

However, it is disingenuous for Saga to believe that customers signed up thinking of anything other than receiving a copy of the magazine in their mailbox every month.

There are a number of things that are difficult for me to understand about this terrible episode.

First of all, most of the people who accepted this offer are now quite old. Surely, Saga could have let the deal run its course. He wouldn’t have bankrupted the company, that’s for sure.

As reader Christine Isbister told me a couple of days ago: ‘As the lifetime offer closed in 2010, it will naturally come to an end when we all leave. [shuffle off this mortal coil]. Life should mean what it says. Absolutely.

Second, your decision to penalize those customers who have not embraced the digital world (for all sorts of reasons, including poor health) is wrong.

In hindsight, a better strategy would have been to ask lifetime subscribers if they were willing to switch to a digital magazine, perhaps giving them a gift (a voucher for a future Saga product) in exchange for doing so. Those who were not willing to go digital would have continued to receive the magazine.

Since Saga says most longtime subscribers have been happy to go digital, such a move would have cut costs and kept ALL customers happy.

The last word goes to Graeme, who is currently being cared for at home by his loving wife Mary. This is after falling down the stairs, breaking ten ribs in the process, and now having to wear a head brace for the next 12 weeks.

Graeme insists that Saga should do a 180 degree turn on this issue, hence the petition: https://chng.it/2cMFrWk4. He has also told his CEO (Euan Sutherland) what he thinks.

On Friday, Graeme told me, “Good managers recognize when they’ve made errors in judgment and then go about correcting them.”

Mr Sutherland, will you? I am all eyes and ears.

Why adopting a phone booth is a very good decision

I love British Telecom’s decision to continue to offer councils and charities the chance to purchase iconic, but underused red phone boxes for £1.

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the red phone booth next year, BT will allow communities to adopt up to 1,000 of them.

Blooming Wonderfully: Communities can install up to 1,000 red phone booths

Blooming Wonderfully: Communities can install up to 1,000 red phone booths

They can then be used for a variety of good purposes: for example, a book exchange facility, a home for a defibrillator, a mini art gallery or a flower display box, like this one in Bath, left.

At its peak, in the 1990s, there were 100,000 phone booths across the country.

But the advancement of the mobile phone made most of them exceed the needs (I used to use one as a teenager to call my first girlfriend away from my mother’s prying ears).

The result is that now there are 20,000 and only 3,000 are red boxes.

Since BT launched its Adopt A Kiosk program 15 years ago, councils have purchased more than 7,200 red phone boxes for the good of their communities. Every once in a while, bad guys mess things up: The defibrillator was recently temporarily removed from the community phone booth at my Wokingham home in Berkshire. But these adopted kiosks are a welcome addition to the high street.

Only councils and registered charities can adopt them. So if you think your community would benefit from a red box, give them a nudge.

The world of haves and have-nots…

Denial: Former NatWest boss Alison Rose

Denial: Former NatWest boss Alison Rose

The bank has and has not. In one corner are hundreds of thousands of savers who receive between 1.75 and 3.3 percent for having a flexible savings account at NatWest. The base rate currently stands at 5.25 percent.

At the other is Dame Alison Rose, former chief executive of NatWest Group, who could receive £2.4 million over the next year after her recent resignation.

This was the result of misleading a BBC journalist about the reasons behind the decision by Coutts, the private banking arm of NatWest, to close Nigel Farage’s account.

By doing this, he exposed Farage, a long-time client, to widespread attacks by gleeful political opponents.

He later denied providing the BBC with his private information.

Assuming a NatWest saver has £100,000 in Flexible Saver, they will earn £2,700 in interest over the next year (provided rates don’t change).

This will represent 0.1125 percent of what Rose could earn over the next 12 months by sitting at home.

Like I said, the haves and the have-nots.

Funds that are not ‘absolute’ disasters

No one has all the answers – apart from perhaps Warren Buffett – when it comes to investing. One person’s investment “certificate” is another’s “don’t touch.”

Therefore, it was inevitable that my outright rejection of the absolute return funds seven days ago would not go unchallenged.

Among those who responded to my lack of love for these investments was wealth manager RBC Brewin Dolphin. His view is that “there is still room for the right type of absolute return fund.”

For the record, these funds aim to generate positive returns regardless of prevailing economic and market conditions. They strive to do this by investing in a mix of stocks, bonds, and complicated financial instruments that most investors would never consider using in a month of Sundays.

However, some of these vehicles, notably Abrdn’s Global Absolute Return Strategies, have gone horribly wrong, generating losses instead of generating positive returns. In fact, it has strayed so far from the message that it is being merged with another Abrdn fund.

My opinion is that cash is the absolute best return generator, while a diversified portfolio of stocks (a stock fund) is the most sensible way to build wealth over the long term.

RBC Brewin Dolphin disagrees. He believes that as interest rates peak, the fortunes of some of these funds will improve, offering “less volatility than stocks and potentially higher returns than bonds.”

On his “like” list are three publicly traded mutual funds: BH Macro, Personal Assets Trust and Ruffer, which he says offer “something different to investors” and have been around for quite some time. .

Actually, these funds are not classified as absolute return funds: BH Macro is a hedge fund, while the other two are “flex” investments.

But since preservation – and appreciation – of capital is embedded in their DNA, I suppose RBC Brewin Dolphin is (pretty much) within their rights to label them as such.

For the record, their one-year returns are all negative (a 22 percent drop in the case of BH Macro) and they hardly advertise an outright return.

But the five-year figures are much better, ranging from 19 percent (Ruffer), 23 percent (Personal Assets) to 60 percent (BH Macro). All this is higher than the return of 15 per cent of the FTSE All-Share index.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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