The chairman takes a plunge and explores virgin territory, then comes down with a terminal case of delegate fatigue
"I'm confused," said the chairman of the insignificantly sized investment company SmallBluePlanet as we enjoyed a pint or two of Frewen's Trenchant Analysis at The Laziness & Greed. "Did we know John Husselbee was finalising an MBO of his company when we discussed all the multi-manager moves last week - including the possible departure of SmallBlue's very own John Whohellhee?"
"I'm confused too," I said. "Though evidently not so confused as to be able to tell that John Husselbee is almost certainly a real person whereas John Whohellhee… er… works for you. Anyway, I definitely didn't know anything about any Neptune and North-related MBO last week when I asked if you were worried your man might also be looking elsewhere. Did you?"
"And you say you're not confused," said the chairman, shaking his head.
"Speaking of confusion," I said, suddenly eager to change the subject. "How have your adviser roadshows been going?" "Pretty well actually, thank you for asking," the chairman replied. "I mean, after the initial glitches with the itinerary." "Glitches?" I asked. "What sort of glitches?"
"Mainly with venues," said the chairman. "Have you any idea how difficult these roadshows are to organise now every investment house in the country sees fit to run one? You can't get a hotel for love nor money anywhere around Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Manchester or Southampton - you know, all the classics - they're all booked up for rival fund-group shows.
"Even if you get a bit creative and explore virgin territory - that's 'virgin' with a small 'V' - and pitch up in the wilds of Cornwall, Northumberland or Hertfordshire in the hope of cashing in on a little gratitude from the natives, you still face the problem of 'delegate fatigue' from people, who'd love to come if they hadn't driven a 400-mile round trip to a Thames River gig the day before.
"Still, with a little perseverance, we pulled it off - our interactive poll technology was a big draw." "Oh?" I said. "Tell me about it." "OK," said the chairman. "We asked incisive questions on topics like the Retail Distribution Review and the advisers pressed buttons on a keypad depending on whether they agreed, disagreed or had no view."
"The really clever thing about this, of course, is we can now pull together a load of releases outlining the results and showing just how in touch we are with advisers around the country." "Brilliant," I said. "Only I notice your roadshows finished a little while back and yet I've not seen any such releases. I don't suppose there have been any more, ah, glitches?"
"Absolutely not," lied the chairman. "We're just re-checking the figures one more time as they seem to have thrown up some anomalies." "Such as?" I asked. "Well," said the chairman. "One question was whether advisers strongly agreed, disagreed or had no strong view on whether primary advice, with its lower suitability standards, could be detrimental to the FSA's goals and the industry's reputation.
"Taking the Darlington roadshow as an example, 33% strongly agreed, 33% strongly disagreed and 33% had no strong view. Same result in Falmouth, Whitstable, Didcott and everywhere else we went except Stevenage." "What happened there?" I asked. "33% strongly agreed, 33% strongly disagreed and 33% nicked the handset," replied the chairman.
"Anyway, the point is, those figures don't make a lot of sense to me." "They make a little sense if only three people turned up to each of your shows," I suggested. "If it helps with your re-checking though, I know that of the 1,000 or so advisers who visited the Fidelity nationwide extravaganza, 93% - including a full 100% of those at the Southampton show - strongly agreed with your statement.
"Just 2% disagreed, and 5% had no strong view. Meanwhile, 73% - including 87% of the Southampton hardcore - strongly agreed the Retail Distribution Review doesn't favour independent advice, with 11% strongly disagreeing and 16% holding no strong view. Yet only 48% of advisers - and 43% in Southampton - will actually respond to the FSA. Which says everything… or nothing, I suppose."