The Money Shot's big 2013 review

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"2013 will be remembered as the year that Bitcoin went legit"
  • | by Kristian Dando

Ah, 2013. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Actually, scratch that. If anything, 2013 was somewhere in the middle. Neither a year of crashing upheaval nor a return to the boom era, it was, on the whole, a step in the right direction. We actually saw the British economy grow a little and the housing market return to something approaching its pre-banking crash.

Elsewhere, the price of car insurance started coming down (according to the AA insurance premium index), as the effects of the EU gender ruling and new measures to combat whiplash fraud kicked in.

It wasn't all good news - the big six energy firms continued to heap misery on the British public, and the banking industry carried on failing to cover itself in glory.

So, as the last embers of a year of steady progress crackle and flicker away, let’s take a trawl through the highs and lows of a year in personal finance…

Hero of the year

In the year when the Current Account Switching Service made giving your bank the heave-ho a doddle, energy upstart First Utility stuck its head above the parapet and called for the same thing for the energy industry.

Channelling the spirit of Chuck D, the firm urged British consumers to “fight the power” with its Fix the Switch campaign.

While it takes just minutes to compare gas and electricity online (nudge, nudge) it can take around four-to-six weeks to completely switch your supplier. First Utility reckons speeding it up will make the market truly competitive.

Biggest panto villains

Step forward the big six energy companies. Despite making a collective annual profit on household energy bills which is bigger than the gross domestic product of Samoa, the big dogs of the energy yard saw fit to ‘roll out’ price rises across the board this autumn.

Cue national outrage, much gnashing of teeth in the press, and politicians punting the issue around in Parliament.

This leads us nicely to…

Most specactular own goal

If you were a large, high-profile energy company which had just announced a mammoth price rise for your customers, you’d probably think it'd be a good idea to lay low for a bit until the noise dies down.

Somebody might have wanted to tell that to the British Gas social media department. It decided that it was wise to host a Twitter forum on the matter in November, resulting in millions of amateur comedians and genuinely outraged consumers adopting the ‘#AskBG’ hashtag for their own mirth.

It got, er, heated, but one suspects that British Gas had the last laugh...

The ‘where did it all go wrong?’ award

Remember when the Co-op Bank was being held up as a paragon of caring, sharing, ethical banking? Yeah, us too.

The bank’s fall from grace this year was grubby and, if we’re honest, a little bit sad. It was bad enough when the deal to buy hundreds of branches of Lloyds collapsed, and got even worse when the hedge funds began circling. But the Paul Flowers scandal which rocked the company in October was a fittingly bizarre end to an unedifying chain of events.

The award for services to IT

Oh, RBS. To have one computer-related mishap which completely wipes out your customers' ability to get to their own money might be considered unfortunate. To have two would be considered careless.

Most confusing initiative

The jury is still very much out when it comes to Help to Buy. Fears remain that it will create an artificial housing bubble and encourage people to borrow beyond their means. The deals offered under the scheme aren’t that competitive in the grand scale of things, and some lenders are offering mortgages for customers with 5% deposits or lower outside of the scheme. But there's no doubt that it's helped some people get a foothold on the property ladder who otherwise might not have been able to.

Whatever you think of the scheme, it wasn’t half difficult trying to get a straight answer about who's eligible for what, with different flavours of Help to Buy being available across various regions in the UK.

It’s almost as if the government was making it up as it went along...

Best breakthrough currency

2013 will be remembered as the year that Bitcoins went legit.

Previously the preserve of the drug and weapons trade on the so-called ‘dark web’, the international currency went overground this year when fashionable East London eateries and even Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic started to accept it as payment.

This led to an exponential boom in the price of a Bitcoins… And a very depressed man in Newport.

The Andy Kaufman award for services to trolling

Brandon Wade, a bookish MIT graduate and serial start-up entrepreneur, got plenty of flak this year for his ‘unique’ range of unashamedly capitalist dating sites and crumpet-heavy publicity stunts.

Our Emily Bater signed up for one of Wade’s ventures, Carrot Dating, and all she got was a lousy offer of petrol money.

Inappropriate corporate mascot award

The burgeoning payday loan industry has taken its fair share of flak this year, much of it deserved. But it doesn’t really do itself any favours.

CashLady (2,670% APR, since you're asking) is a firm which regular viewers of daytime TV may be familiar with. It found itself in a pickle earlier this year when the star of its ads, Kerry Katona, filed for bankruptcy. Again.

The Marie Antoinette award for instructions on cake-eating

While Spain languished in the economic brown stuff - youth unemployment hit 56.1% in August - the nation’s two soccerball giants continued to live high on the hog. The deal which took Gareth Bale to Real Madrid was worth £86m and positively trumped in the face of austerity and hardship.

What were YOUR highs and lows of 2013? Tell us on Twitter.