"What do you mean you have nothing to say on the Autumn Statement?" I asked the chairman of the improbably-sized investment company Prandeamus Asset Management when I dropped by to see him this week.
"You didn't have anything to say last week about the FCA's Asset Management Market Study either. This relationship really isn't going to work if it's all one-way traffic."
"Steady on, old boy," said the chairman. "I get enough of that sort of talk at home. Anyway, the two situations are completely different. Last week, I had nothing to say on the FCA study because - in common with most of my peers - I didn't want to say anything about it. This week, I have nothing to say about the Autumn Statement because, well, there isn't much to say.
"Despite the hundreds of press releases it generated, I know what you mean," I nodded. "When the biggest outcry's about a pensions detail most financial journalists had no notion existed before Wednesday, you know it's not been a classic Autumn Statement." "I wouldn't go that far," said the chairman. "Even if such a thing exists, I thought young Hammond handled himself and his material pretty well.
"Certainly from our point of view - and I got the impression most members of Her Majesty's financial services industry felt similarly - we were hoping for a real anti-Osborne of a statement. You know - no meddling just because you can. Move on, nothing to see here. An opportunity for everyone to take stock. That's why people were so disappointed with that consultation on the MAPA or MPPA or whatever."
"MPAA," I replied. "But they're all just bad hands at scrabble. So, if you really have no earth-shattering thoughts on the Budget, are you sure I can't tempt you to venture an opinion on the FCA's Market Study?" "Not a chance," said the chairman. "What if I told you the Millers finally weighed in with their opinions a few days back?" I said slyly.
"Really?" said the chairman, taking the bait. "I'd have though Mrs Miller would have other things on her plate at the moment." "I just assumed that was why there was no comment forthcoming from the pair on the day the report was published," I said. "But their press release neatly dealt with that by starting off: ‘Having carefully reviewed the FCA's Asset Management Market Study ...'"
"What a clever way of being late to the party while still signalling virtue," said the chairman, looking genuinely impressed. "Top one-upmanship." "Well, I hope you feel similarly positive after the next bit," I said. "Mrs M continued: ‘Credit where credit's due. This FCA paper is a comprehensive and well-founded analysis exposing the various dishonesties that have been plaguing the UK investment and pension industry for decades.'
"Then, as a rousing finale, we had: ‘This FCA report is a game-changer and marks a cultural revolution, for both the regulator and the sector, that will effectively restore the UK to the gold standard of consumer savings and investment products and protection, internationally.'" "Stirring stuff indeed," said the chairman flatly. "Though, now I think about it, ‘cultural revolution' feels a bit, well, Maoist.
"And what particular gold standard of a glorious past are they imagining this report will effectively restore the UK to? I'm sure the asset management sector's been charging the way it has for as long as I've been around, which is a lot longer than I care to think about. Still, much as I hate to admit it - on a number of levels - I fear they may be onto something with the idea of the review being a game-changer.
"Certainly, the whole affair is beginning to smell an awful lot like the asset management equivalent of the Retail Distribution Review." "And you'd say that was a bad thing?" I asked. "No, no," said the chairman quietly. "Like this issue with our charges, it was always going to happen one day - but that does not automatically make it a universally good thing either. Still, I suppose things could be worse."
"That's the spirit," I said. "And on that very point, which are you betting will come first - Fed-inspired bond crash or post-Italian referendum eurozone crisis?"
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