"Have you noticed the industry being a bit more delusional of late?" I asked the chairman of the improbably-sized investment company Prandeamus Asset Management when I dropped by to see him this week.
"No more than usual," he shrugged. "I mean, we prefer not to use that word ourselves but it does take a certain degree of ... er ... self-assurance to continue believing we can make money no matter what is happening in the world."
"Actually, I've always rather admired that attitude in fund managers," I admitted. "That single-minded certainty that, even though markets - even empires - may be crashing down around their ears, there is always some tiny, if incredibly specific, part of their investment universe that could still help their clients make enough money to tide them through the apocalypse.
"That said, I have even more admiration for fund managers who have the self-confidence to tell investors they should be steering clear of their particular area of expertise for the time being. But since I have come across this altruistic approach maybe three times during the entire 20 years I have been playing this game, that is pretty much hypothetical."
"Three times?" said the chairman. "I must have missed one. Still, if you're not talking about the perennial optimism of fund management's foot soldiers, I assume you are referring to the legal challenge to the PM triggering Article 50 that kicked off in court this week with - as I believe the correct media phrasing has it - investment fund manager and philanthropist Gina Miller standing cross-armed to the fore."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I said quickly. "I was very much not referring to that just as the little chat we are now having very much does not constitute any sort of insult being cast in her direction. I concede that, in the past, I have found aspects of her firm's approach to public relations reminiscent of a child trying to gain their parents' attention but this is certainly not one of those times."
"I couldn't agree with you more," the chairman nodded. "Somebody needs to be asking this important question about the primacy of Parliament and it's just a bit sad that nobody from the Westminster postcode apparently felt it was within their job description to do so. And I can't help but notice the experts young Gina has on her team for this campaign look rather more impressive than in some past instances."
"Ouch," I said. "And just to be clear, you are being rude about some person or persons other than the investment fund manager and philanthropist Gina Miller there?" "I am indeed," the chairman confirmed. "Which brings me back to my original question - to what particular delusion are you referring?" "That some financial services companies appear to believe they can do the Jedi mind trick on the Chancellor of the Exchequer," I replied.
"I've spotted traces of it in the past, ahead of various Budgets and Autumn Statements, but this year the corporate wish-lists for what Philip Hammond should and should not be saying come 23 November seem tinged with an extra degree of fervour. They are so detailed, so in-depth, so very, very ... long, you get the feeling their authors will be unable to comprehend it if - when - their suggestions are not taken up."
"But surely you are aware it is the inalienable human right of everyone who works in Her Majesty's financial services industry to think they know better than the Chancellor?" the chairman checked. "Well obviously," I nodded. "And I am also aware there is such a thing as ‘lobbying', which from time to time presumably must have some effect - otherwise why have ‘lobbyists'?
"Still, I am intrigued to see even Royal London's Steve Webb get in on the act. Yes, I know he's not shy about getting the odd quote in the press - and obviously in my day job I am pathetically grateful for that. But given the emerging views of his successor as pensions minister Ros Altman that even her opinions did not count for terribly much with the Treasury, one does wonder why he bothers."
"Sometimes in this business," sighed the chairman, "we are just guilty of caring too much."
The chairman worries about finance getting in touch with its feelings
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