Sexing up finance

It is easy to talk about teddy bears, and even teachers, in a party situation. People love you for it. If you have spent the past week working on the Gillian Gibbons story, which has captured people’s imagination the world over, you are definitely with the in-crowd.

With finance, though, it is quite a different story.

One of the best stories I ever wrote for Life & Pensions was about how Swiss pension funds are fiddling their accounts by using a discount rate that doesn’t fully match the markets. This annoyed a lot of pension fund managers, many of whom wouldn’t speak to me again. Privately, though, I was quite chuffed with the story.

Try explaining this over cocktails and canapĂ©s and you probably won’t get passed the first few words. People will almost certainly start looking round the room for more interesting conversationalists when you reach the words “discount rate”.

So, it is not surprise that, having leapt from teddy bears to microfinance, I now am in a bit of a pickle. Just how do I sell the incredibly important, though incredibly dull, subject of microfinance to the mainstream media?

I asked Ishraq Darir, who is head of the microfinance unit at the Central Bank of Sudan, this question. In her view, any story dealing with microfinance has to be speckled with interesting anecdotes and real-world examples, of how microfinance can turn people’s lives around. She used the example of a tea-lady. “To make them get excited about finance,” she said, “you have to put it to them: ‘so, you now have 100 pounds in capital. What do you think you could do with 200 pounds?”

Fair advice, but I still think something else is needed. I don’t know what. Do people in England really care about how microfinance can help a far-off country under an authoritarian regime, which has just arrested a dear little lady for calling a cuddly toy Muhammad?

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