The chairman uses hidden cameras to drop in on talks between Suit One and Suit Two plotting to feed the financial press with the company’s figures
“What do you make of the recent chat about the FCA’s latest data on financial adviser numbers?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as I dropped by his office en route to The Threadneedle Prize Shortlist for a pint or two of Creativity And Isolation, Awkwardness Of Adolescence or, most likely, Urban Burka.
“If I am honest, I haven’t given the matter a lot of thought,” the chairman replied. “That’s a bit casual, isn’t it?” I said, surprised. “I would have thought most fund group bosses would be pretty interested in whether or not the regulator has a reasonably accurate idea of the number of people out there who might want to recommend their funds in a professional capacity.”
“I dare say most fund group bosses might,” the chairman conceded. “However, since I have a completely accurate idea of the number of people out there who might want to recommend Scam funds in a professional capacity – which at present, if you hadn’t already guessed, would be zero – I do not happen to be one of them.”
“Oh,” I said. “But there is very little else going on in the wonderful world of investment at the moment. If you do not want to talk about this, then what are we going to do for the next 500 words … I mean, for the rest of our conversation?” “OK,” said the chairman, looking as close as I had ever seen him to sympathetic. “Never let it be said I don’t do anything for you.”
And with that he tapped a button on his desk and the large portrait behind him rose slowly upwards to reveal an equally large television screen. Almost immediately it buzzed into life to reveal the latest recording from the Chairmovision network of hidden surveillance cameras he has had installed in various places of interest around London.
This particular place of interest was a small meeting room familiar from previous tapes – as indeed were its occupants, whom I have previously and unimaginatively called Suit One and Suit Two and will do so again. “So are we really going ahead with these numbers in our release?” Suit One was asking nervously. “Of course we are,” snapped Suit Two. “Why ever would we not?”
“But surely we can’t expect the financial press simply to regurgitate them without asking any questions,” Suit One persisted. “Oh bless you for thinking so,” snorted Suit Two. “It’s the middle of summer so of course we can. Journalists will be so pathetically grateful for anything that looks like hard news they will post it up before you can say ‘Cut-and-paste’.
“Of course there will be the usual eyebrows raised by the usual sceptics in the usual comment sections beneath the stories but those tend to be more amusing than damaging. And anyway, say people did want to question our numbers, on what basis would they do so? Their only real benchmark is our data from six months back – before that, we are all pretty much relying on guestimation.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Suit One without sounding entirely convinced. “Of course, I am,” Suit Two nodded. “I guarantee you the way this will play out is the trade titles will publish our numbers unquestioningly and with minimal analysis while any doubts raised in the forums will be offset by one or two … ah … useful companies welcoming our figures as a positive sign for the industry.
“Within a week or so, everyone will have forgotten the story and they won’t think about it again until we get around to releasing our next numbers – at which point the whole circus starts again with the only difference being the summer 2013 figures are in the system as one of very few credible points of reference.”
“Meanwhile Operation Back-Seat Driver continues on its merry way,” smiled Suit One. “Too right it does,” Suit Two smiled back. “Practitioners can keep leaving the industry or we iron out the final kinks in our cloning programme but, one way or the other, it is only a matter of time before every financial adviser has their own dedicated regulator and we can finally rest easy.”