Tell Sid was a 1986 advertising campaign featuring members of the public looking for an ever-elusive man named Sid to inform him that he could buy shares in a newly denationalised British Gas. Nearly 40 years later, the UK government is planning a new campaign, this time calling for the public to buy its remaining stake in NatWest, but why stop there?

For anyone over the age of forty, Tell Sid is an obvious reference to the Thatcher government’s famous advertising campaign around the denationalisation of British Gas and the opportunity to buy its shares. The advert also heralded a national conversation on share ownership, but if we are going to bring Sid into the digital age is NatWest really the only investment opportunity that we’re going to tell him about?

While members of the British public may remember Sid, they might not realise that they could be shareholders of British Gas owner, Centrica even if they didn’t buy shares in 1986. According to research from Boring Money in 2023, one in five people with money invested in a workplace pension don’t know that it is being invested, let alone what it may be invested in, be it in index trackers, government bonds or indeed Centrica.

A country of savers

That said, Britain remains a country of savers. According to abrdn’s recent research with Opinium, 74% of British adults are savers outside of their pension, but cash savings are prioritised over shares and funds. Only 19% of UK adults invest directly in shares, and just 11% invest in funds or investment trusts.

This suggests that the government needs to go further in building a culture of investing in the UK. abrdn believes that the government needs to start a national conversation on the same eye-catching scale as Tell Sid, but for the digital age.

The development of a greater saving and investing culture in the UK, and having more straightforward ways to save and invest, are critical to people up and down this country securing the futures they want for themselves and their families

julia hoggett, ceo of the london stock exchange

25 years of ISAs

Crucially, any Government campaign should not be solely focussed on the disposal of NatWest shares, it should be a wide-reaching campaign relating to the benefits of long-term investing. ISAs should be promoted as key part of share ownership, particularly as this tax wrapper celebrates its 25th anniversary in April this year. While ISAs are, in many ways, a success story, abrdn’s research suggests that only six in ten investors with directly held shares outside of a pension are holding them in an ISA.

Long-term financial resilience

Broader measures to stimulate investment in UK Capital markets have been welcome. But while UK pension fund allocation has been front and centre of the conversation, the potential and more direct role of the general public has been largely overlooked, despite it being so crucial to the nation’s long-term financial resilience.

Beyond cash and property, premium bonds remain the nation’s favourite investment with 26% of adults holding them, despite more than half of all savers having never won a prize in the past two decades.

Cryptocurrency is now held by almost 10% of 18 to 34-year-olds and 6% of the adult population. This indicates that there is a broader public desire to invest in assets, and we should renew debates about how we can make investing more accessible.

Ultimately, we are only scratching the surface in the UK when it comes to promoting a savings culture. If you see Sid, don’t tell him just to invest in Centrica or NatWest, tell him to think about his ISA too.

abrdn commissioned Opinium to conduct research on its behalf from 29 December 2023 to 3 January 2024 amongst a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults. You can read abrdn’s full manifesto and recommendations here.