If Engineering was Like the Financial Sector

One of the hidden perils of being the Secret Engineer is that you earn money outside of the usual accounting system. This additional income has to be declared and consequently the dreaded “self-assessment” form filled in.

Now, whereas I’m not too shabby on the engineering front I have a real blind spot when it comes to sorting out finances. An appreciation of profit and economy – yes. The ability to look at a form asking for “pre-taxed acceptable profits outside of sub-clause b as recognised by bylaw 32a” and the like – no. Still, that’s fine. That’s why I became an engineer and not an accountant.

Therefore the fact that we live in a society where we have to commit to a high personal level of financial self-determination, invariably leading to the consulting of a financial advisor, has always puzzled and angered me in equal measure.

I was trying to think what an engineering equivalent of this would be and I decided the best illustration would be to think of buying a new car. As things stand you will decide roughly what you want and then look at what cars are available for the right price. You may be swayed by a particular brand or image. Perhaps a car company has caught your eye with an advert for one of their models?

The price will essentially be set by market forces although of course there is a little leeway for haggling and, unless you have your heart set on something in particular, you will probably end up with two or three options. You will then take them out for a test drive to see what you are most comfortable with and which suit your requirements the most. In reality this period can be seen as purely being “fine tuning.” All of the cars, because of those self same market forces, will be the best that can be produced for that price point and therefore similar. You will then part with cash and take your prized possession home.

What if the process was run like your finances though? For a start the cost won’t be fixed and you will have to consider potential variables with regard to this over X number of years. In addition there will be many options available and, given the depth of expertise we are looking to mimic, it will be more than just “loading up” your potential purchase with blingtastic alloy wheels and a banging stereo (is “banging” still used in this context I wonder?) Of course Joe Public’s consultant engineer will be there to help decide, for instance, on whether to spend extra money on a galvanised corrosion protection system – “Well it costs more initially Sir / Madam and will affect your return but dependent on the time frame you intend this to run over, is it really necessary?”

Once you have one package determined you will then need to see what offers are also currently available from other manufacturers; “Yes, the Tartan-Bag Gti enhanced security system costs less but in this case I would recommend sticking with the Lardomatic GLS as its klaxon is louder.” If you think this is overstating the claim then I will simply ask “how many of you have used a financial advisor” and “how many non-technical people do you know who have asked an engineer for advice before buying a new car?”

I just don’t get why the services offered by the financial sector aren’t inherently easier to understand by the layman, it simply seems like no more than smoke and mirrors to me. All those financial advisors and CEOs of building societies could learn a lot from the engineering sector. Mind you, looking at how much they earn perhaps we could learn something from them?