8 Reasons NOT to Give Pocket Money (And How ‘Osper’ Changed My Mind)

The Osper app has unlocked 8 benefits to giving pocket money to my daughter

She asked for pocket money for the 287th time. And for the 287th time, I said, NO!

Why did I refuse? Here are 8 reasons I always held back from giving pocket money:


She’d get used to the idea of getting ‘something for nothing’. (Paying her to make her bed, tidy her room, or do her homework strikes me as a terrible idea since these are things she should be doing anyway.)


She’d become enfeebled. Like a ‘welfare dependent’. Or a 1950s housewife relying on monthly handouts. Or a ‘coasting’ employee who does ‘just enough’ to keep the pay checks rolling-in. Take it away, and she’d be lost!


She’d have a positive reason NOT to go out and find ways to create value for others in exchange for money.


Having not done anything to ‘earn’ the money, she’d have no sense of the value of it.


She’d lose it. Cash is very easy to mislay. Especially for a tween whose bedroom looks like permanent bomb site.


She couldn’t use it to buy the stuff she likes, and isn’t entirely bad for her. Like books, music and apps online.


It would be all too easy for her to spend it on stuff that’s positively bad for her. Like sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks down the local shop.


Neither she, nor I, would have any record of what she’d spent ‘her’ money on. Of course, she wouldn’t care, but I, as her parent, would have no sight of what she was spending ‘her’ money on.

Enter, Osper

Several months ago I came across, and subsequently (despite my reservations) signed-up for a prepaid card service called Osper:

A Prepaid Debit Card for young people with a mobile banking app for the family.

As a parent (or grandparent, guardian, whatever…) I can pay into it on a recurring and/or one-off basis.

Because it’s backed by Mastercard she can use it: online, for Debit card payments, for Contactless payments, and to withdraw good old-fashioned cash.

I also get to see a near-realtime feed of all her (non-cash) transactions with an easy-to-use app. And… text alerts for example when a transaction bounces for lack of funds.

Does it work?

After several months of using Osper, I thought it would help other parents to summarise the benefits we’ve found as a family.

8 reasons to give pocket money


Learn to appreciate the value of money. Having some money but less than you’d like is good preparation for real-life. Giving just enough therefore to pay for the little things that make her life better works for me.


Learn to budget. This works best if the money is received on a consistent basis. We pay in once a month.


Learn to be confident in dealing with shop-keepers, and doing online transactions. (Maybe I’ll live to regret this one!)

4) DISCRIMINATION (the good kind)

Learn to make value trade-offs between multiple things.


Learn about waiting for and saving-up for something she can’t afford right now.


Independence that comes from being able to make and act on decisions.


Doing something ‘beyond the call of duty’. In most cases, I’d rather treat her to an experience like going to the cinema or inviting a friend to stay over. Still, having the option to make one-off ‘bonus’ payments makes sense. Either way, recognising and rewarding extra-good behaviour can only be a good thing.


Making it easy (and not awkward) for a wider circle of family and friends to contribute is good for them and can have a force-multiplier effect for my daughter.


Osper opened my eyes to the benefits of giving pocket money to children. While it doesn’t in itself solve all the problems I have with ‘pocket money’, it is a big step in the right direction, and we’re both very happy with it.

As a bonus, I don’t have to say NO as much.

As Cars Turn Into Computers, Should We Buy or Rent?


Not my car! I just like the picture. Photo: Andy Bagley on Flickr

I drove the best car ever made for twelve years… until last week [It was a BMW 3-series!]

Once a year, my mechanic would look at me as if was a lunatic and ask why on earth I’d want to get rid of it.

It runs as well as ever and will easily do another 100 thousand miles, he’d say.

Apparently cars made around the turn of the century were at their mechanical peak. Comfort extras like air-con, cruise control and self-winding windows all worked fine.

The problem with new cars he said, is that the electronics have become overly complex and are causing a rising tide of real and false issues. Meanwhile, the underlying mechanics are no better than they were at the end of the last century.

Why get a new car when your old one is as good as it gets?

Was I driving a classic (‘the best car ever made’) or a fifteen year-old banger?

Should I invest a few hundred to fix the broken wing-mirror, or spend £25k on a nearly-new car?

Need I care what the neighbours think as they look down from their gleaming 4x4s?

The fact is there was no need to get a new car. The car would probably have run just fine for another 10 years at my (low) mileage – and at minimal cost.

What the hell has need got to with it anyway?

Frankly, had it been purely down to me, I’d have kept it.

But Mrs B and my two daughters had different ideas. For Mrs B, it was all about status. For the girls, it was about more space, power-windows and novelty. For me, there was the bonus prospect of less anxiety of random breakdown.

Finally, a drip, drip oil leak plus the wing-mirror falling-off marked the tipping point…

What I learned about ‘buying’ a new car in 2015

Having not bought a car for so long, I was amazed at how things have changed.

Nobody buys a new car anymore…

Hardly surprising given the exorbitant prices and crippling depreciation. Typically, 25% in the first nano-second.

It seems there are 3 options (in the UK):

  • Hire Purchase – you pay an upfront deposit and pay off the rest plus (high) interest in monthly instalments. You don’t own the car until it’s fully paid off. Consider if you want to keep the car for 12 years like I did!
  • Leasing – you make monthly payments (typically lower than HP) over a pre-agreed 24 to 48 months. You never own the car. Consider if you don’t mind changing the car in 2 to 4 years.
  • Personal Contract Purchase – you make an upfront deposit and then monthly payments (including interest) over 24 to 48 months. At the end of the term, you either make a typically large ‘balloon’ payment and keep the car, or you simply hand-back the car with nothing more to pay, albeit with no equity.

Mind-bendingly seductive

Having crunched the numbers, I can see why PCP has become the popular option. It gives you access to a brand new or nearly new car for a ‘minimal’ deposit (say £5k) plus ‘minimal’ monthly payments (say £300) over 2 to 4 years.

For all the deals I looked at, it made much more sense to hand the car back rather than make the final ‘balloon’ payment. Clearly, this is no accident since it encourages you to start the whole process over again every few years. But know this: you never own the car. Effectively, you are renting the car at a high rate of interest. Around 10% APR in May 2015.

If you can finance the deal with a lower APR then I suggest running the numbers: taking into account the total cost including interest, depreciation and expected equity along the way.

Unsurprisingly, car dealers are pushing PCP so beware.

The trend is away from ownership & towards access

I’m struck by the number of ads for brand new as well as nearly new cars that quote a monthly cost rather than an outright figure.

£297/month is a lot more compelling than £35,000.

This shift is consistent with software which has largely moved to a monthly service model for ongoing access, maintenance, service and upgrades.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that a car is no longer a car. It’s more like a computer on wheels.

Seamless, wireless connectivity with your favourite apps, podcasts, watch etc… is going to become ever more of a deciding factor. And we’re going to expect the car’s software and data (for navigation etc) to upgrade as easily and often as it does for your phone.

When I next switch, I look forward to flat-rate access for 24/36 months to a new wirelessly-connected, constantly-updated device that just happens to have wheels and leather-seats. (The one after that could well be self-driving but let’s not get ahead of ourselves)

Meanwhile, I’m finally enjoying listening to podcasts and making calls over the car speakers.

‘Old’ Europe Fights Back as Software Eats Taxis

Taxi apps are disrupting personal travelNEVER again! Gatwick airport. Midnight. Exhausted kids with school the next day. And… NO sign of the cab I’d pre-booked two weeks earlier.

That was last Summer.

Last week, having touched down again at Gatwick en famille I turned on the phone to find a reassuring text telling me the cab was waiting outside. Clean. Courteous. Smooth.

I’d booked the cab from the hotel, just hours before leaving for the airport with just a few taps on a mobile app over the hotel’s free WIFI. No phone charges. Quick and easy. (I couldn’t quite believe how easy it was until I got a confirmation email)

London 1985 to 2013

I’ve lived in London since the mid-1980s and until recently getting a cab has always been stressful:

… either you can’t find one (outside zone 1 or after 11pm), or they don’t show up (mini-cabs), and when they do they’re either too late (mini-cabs), or filthy (mini-cabs) or expensive (black cabs).

London 2014

Want a black cab but none in sight? Don’t fancy hanging on street corners for hours in the rain? The Hailo taxi app tells you how many minutes away the nearest black cab is and lets you book one in a few taps. Backed by Sir Richard Branson and a slew of VCs, Hailo has just been slated as the UK’s fastest growing tech startup.

Want to impress a client or round-off a special date? Summon a sleek limo with the Uber app. San Francisco based Uber entered London in 2012 and now offer lower-cost UberX cars as an alternative to their limos. Uber operates in 70 cities around the world, has raised $360m and is valued at $3.6b.

Need to get to the airport for 5am? Book a big clean Addison Lee car with tons of space for luggage. Again, all with a few taps on your phone.

Happy to take a chance on a mini-cab that should be cheaper than a limo or black cab? Get tapping on the Kabbee app. They claim to cover 70 mini-cab fleets across London.

All these apps track your car on a map on your phone as it draws closer, and send you helpful text messages to confirm your car’s registration number and the driver’s mobile phone number. No cash? No problem, pay seamlessly by card.

With all these companies, the drivers are self-employed and take a percentage of the fares they earn.

‘Old’ Europe Fights Back

While London is enjoying a perfect storm of innovation and competition, other parts of Europe are putting up a fight.

On 1 January a regulation came into effect in Paris to force so-called “voitures de tourisme avec chauffeurs” (as opposed to licensed taxis) to have to wait 15 minutes from the time of booking before picking-up their customers! Meanwhile, the FT have reported that striking licensed taxi drivers have physically attacked Uber drivers and riders. Not cool.

A Brussels court have banned Uber, and drivers caught carrying private passengers will be fined 10,000 euros. Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital commissioner, called the court’s decision “crazy” and “outrageous” and has blogged her anger.

Meanwhile things are looking grim in Berlin too as its taxi association is now challenging the legality of Uber and other app-based cab services.

Resistance is futile

As Silicon Valley VC Marc Andreessen said back in 2011:

Uber is software eats taxis. It’s almost entirely a smartphone-based application bringing town cars to you…. It’s a killer experience.

Outside Silicon Valley (and Tech City) nobody likes change. It’s understandable that some taxi drivers feel threatened by these new-fangled ways of doing things.

And yet, thousands of drivers are embracing these new business models as an entrepreneurial opportunity to take control of their lives: watch an Uber driver talk about his experience.

Ultimately, innovation and fair competition offer the best hope for all of us.

What next?

In the short-term it’ll be fascinating to see what happens next in Europe and elsewhere as the ‘old’ world tries to resist being eaten by software.

Meanwhile, Lyft connects drivers’ personal cars with others who want a … lift. Already in 30 US cities, Lyft is now ready for international take-off.

With Google investing £258m into Uber the logical conclusion of all this is for fully automated self-driving taxis summoned via an invisible reincarnation of Google Glass.

Perhaps we’ll all become modern-day Queen Victorias with robot drivers at our beck and call. As the old-saying goes, “Home James, and don’t spare the horses.

Photo credit: William Creswell

Update (23 April 2014): Uber launch in Beijing, their 100th city

Should Our Children be Encouraged to Fail?

The only reason I get a newspaper these days is to line the cat litter tray – even then I use the London Evening Standard, because it’s free.

Yesterday was different though as it was Mothers day, and my job is to organise tea, pastries and a certain Sunday paper that’s so fat it will keep the cat happy for the next 6 months. Of course, it’s all a throwback to the halcyon and carefree pre-children (and pre-cat) days when lazing around on a Sunday was the norm.

Back to the newspaper… the one story that struck me was about the Duke of York (aka Prince Andrew, the Queens second son) and why he believes children should be encouraged to fail, and the best way to do that is to plug into the internet and start a business.

Failure allows you to succeed in the future because we are an experience-based learning organism. All animals are. Give someone the experience and they will learn.” ~ Prince Andrew

As it happens, I couldn’t agree more. Starting a business over the internet is indeed a fast and sure-fire way to failure. And that’s the great thing about it.

How can that be good? Well, it turns out that failing, failing fast and failing early is the surest way to success. Ask any Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Of course, there’s a caveat which boils down to: knowing when to cut your losses, learning from the experience, and getting right back in the saddle.

For bonus points: start early. In other words, the earlier you start failing the more runway you have to get past failure, and on to success.

The problem is that our (at least in the UK) education system is still based on the 20th century delusion that there’s a magical conveyor belt from school to university to ‘permanent’ employment. In that illusory world, success is all about fitting in rather than standing out, and playing it safe rather than taking a chance. And that means ‘failure’ is something to be avoided at all costs.

The irony is that playing it safe, waiting to be picked and following the rulebook is probably the riskiest thing any of us can do. Why? Because ‘safe’ jobs are being outsourced, off-shored & automated at breakneck speed.

Instead, we need to be encouraging our kids to stand out, take a chance, and experiment with what might not work. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism are the order of the day. The keys to success (via a fast-track of failure) have never been more accessible or cheaper. And the younger you start the better…

Recent surveys show that while 55% of young people want to start their own businesses, 70% are held back by ‘fear of failure’, and only 14% are actually doing it. We owe it to them and their futures to help them as best we can.

I applaud what the Prince is trying to do with his iDEA scheme, launched today, to help 1 million 16 to 25 year-olds start their own businesses over the next 5 years.

Photo credit: Labyrinth of Failure by Chris Hackett and Eleanor Lovinsky at Flickr

Betting on Bitcoin’s Future


If you’d bet $5k on Bitcoin 2 years ago, you’d be able to sell them today for around $634,800, a return of 12,596%.

$5k happens to be 0.01% of what a leading Venture Capitalist firm have invested in Bitcoin-related startups. Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz makes a strong case for the future of Bitcoin.

According to BitCoin Watch, the total value of all bitcoins today is $8.8 billion. Small change compared to mainstream traditional currencies like the mighty US dollar.

To write-off cryptocurrencies in general and Bitcoin in particular would however be a mistake. A cryptocurrency is a digital means of exchange. Bitcoin is the most well-known and first to be traded in 2009.

Bitcoin is lurching toward mainstream at an incredible rate, online and in the physical world. You can now spend your bitcoins at British pubs, Berlin bars and even tuition fees at a public UK university.

While Bitcoin certainly has momentum there remain big challenges like security and anonymity. But it’s only a matter of time before Bitcoin or its successors like Litecoin, Peercoin, Namecoin and Dogecoin overcome these issues.

Around the turn of the century, I spent nearly fifteen years making some of the biggest banks in the world get even bigger. It could be that the traditional banking model has the most to lose by the take-up of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Ultimately I’m bullish on cryptocurrencies because we now know we don’t have to put up with the sheer hassle and cost of transacting (in both the online and physical world) with last century’s payment systems & currencies.

Enough of us have now seen that a faster, cheaper and more flexible alternative is possible.

Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz has made a bet with Felix Salmon a prominent finance blogger at Reuters. Ben has bet a pair Alpaca socks that Bitcoin has a bright future. You can listen to Ben and Felix make the bet here on the excellent NPR Planet Money podcast.

Somehow I think Ben has rather more than a nice pair of Alpaca socks to look forward to if Bitcoin does work out.

Photo credit: BTC Keychain

Marketing Is Storytelling

Wondering why your crappy website, ad or Facebook page isn’t working?

The thing is, nobody is interested in you, or what you have to offer. Features? Boring. Discounts? Desperate. Benefits? Meh.

So, what the hell does work?


Watch this three-minute video to see a superb example of what I mean. (If you don’t understand Hindi then just hit the Caption button to see what they’re saying in your language)

This story from Google India has struck a chord all around the Web. Watch it. Experience it. And you’ll see why.

I know. It’s Google. No matter. The story carries us away on a wave of emotion. The fact that a technology company with so much baggage can do this shows just how powerful this approach can be.

So, what’s happening here?

I think there are four factors at play: story, emotion, connection & outcome


We’re hard-wired to ‘get’ stories. I started reading stories to my kids when they were 12 months old. They come home from school, they tell stories. You meet-up with friends, you tell stories. We all love stories.

The better the story & the better you tell it, the more we’ll respond to it – and to you.


The more emotion you spark with your story the more it will resonate. The more it will be remembered. And, the more it will be shared.


The better storyteller you are then the more of a bond you make with the recipient. The greater the bond, the more liked and trusted you will become. And of course trust leads to success in business as in life.


If you’re selling a commodity and you do it efficiently then all that people care about is price. If so then good luck.

The rest of us need to be using stories to gain attention and build trust. But the trick is to conjure up an outcome that your ideal audience wants and weave that into your stories.

Note: We’re not talking about the outcome you want. Nobody else cares about that. The outcome that matters is the outcome your ideal audience want.

What stories are you telling? How well are you telling them? Who are you telling them to? And, how are they responding?

Worth a try if you’re not getting anywhere by shouting ‘come buy my stuff’ at them. Don’t you think?