What’s behind MarketWatch’s Moneyologist column?
Quentin Fottrell is the personal finance editor at MarketWatch, where he is also the Moneyologist columnist, answering personal finance questions from readers.
Fottrell is the former Ireland correspondent for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal.
He was born in Dublin and studied psychology in University College Dublin and journalism in University College Galway.
Fottrell once wrote a weekly radio review column for The Irish Times and gave advice on relationships on both “The Ray D’Arcy Show” and his own website.
Fottrell spoke by email with Talking Biz News about the Moneyologist column. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did the idea for the Moneyologist come about?
I used to give relationship advice on a radio show in Ireland. In fact, I did it for nearly 10 years. Before the end of that run — and before I emigrated to the U.S. — I wrote a book called “Love in a Damp Climate,” which looked at Ireland through something other than the Celtic Tiger, which was roaring at the time.
So when I was dreaming up a column for MarketWatch, I knew that was my sweet spot: relationships and money.
What do you think it adds to MarketWatch and its content?
It gives an outlet to real people’s stories and, even though I have answered countless stories about divorce or inheritance, dysfunctional families, how much money the tooth fairy should give your children, or how double-dipping at the movies could land you in jail, every story is different and has its own set of unique, moving parts.
It’s reader service at its purest. And, despite how particular each story may be, our readers really seem to identify with the predicaments.
How did you get the word out to readers to send in their questions/requests?
Initially, we did it through Twitter, our Facebook group, but, really, the proof is in the pudding. If you liked the advice in the last column, you’re more likely to want to have your own problem answered in the next one.
How have the hits been on Moneyologist compared to other personal finance content?
We try to make sure that all our stories have something unique, so in that way they’re the same — but different in other ways.
I’ve noticed recently that you’re posting more frequently, including weekends. Is that because of the demand?
I try to post as regularly as possible and, yes, weekends are a good time to kick back and read a few columns. Life could be worse. Your relatives could be worse too. Of course, people write in when they have problems, so I don’t see it as a true reflection of human nature. Maybe at a time when people are not at their finest.
Do you have to go to experts for answers sometimes?
Yes, I’m not a lawyer or a CPA, so I sometimes seek out third party advice. I am a conduit, but I always try to give my own opinion too and make it as useful and (when appropriate) as entertaining as possible. I’m a writer and I have been answering these dilemmas for several years, so I have built up an archive and knowledge of the intricacies of divorce, inheritance, personal finance and — of course — human relations.
What do you enjoy about doing the Moneyologist?
I’m happy that people find it useful and it does sometimes provoke strong responses in readers. They bring their own feelings about relationships with significant others and family members to the table. But more than that, it’s great when the actual letter writer gets in touch to say he or she has taken action. Whether or not it’s the action that I’ve recommended, that’s a good result.
You’ve got a Facebook group too. How is that different?
The Facebook group is really passionate and gets the crossroads of finance and romance. It’s a really well-informed, smart bunch of people. I often include their comments or ask the letter writer to circle back to the group to see what they’ve said.
One person who wrote to me after the fact and said it was hard to see her life discussed on Facebook. But she also appreciated the interest and took steps to rectify the situation — her husband had used a joint bank account to hide her brother-in-law’s funds before his divorce.
How do you see Moneyologist expanding?
Sorry to sound glib, but watch this space!
What’s been the toughest question you’ve answered?
A letter from a woman whose husband was sexually abusive to both their daughters. The entire family wanted to decline the inheritance. But I advised her against it. I thought she could use the money for her children’s education, a deposit on a house or even a charity.
I told her, “I get so many letters from people who feel like life owes them. You, however, show that there are people out there who want to live a peaceful life, do the right thing, make sure to act honorably and (even better for the purposes of this column) plan ahead. If I had a hat in my avatar, I would tip it.”
She was a woman who lived her life with honor and, for her daughters, do the right thing.