Surely the company would benefit from a bit of TV exposure
'All I'm saying is it was a bit of a blow to our plans for raising his profile,' said the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet. 'I'm just astonished a fund of funds manager could make it so far though the selection process for Big Brother,' I replied. 'I can't imagine what his audition tape must have been like.'
'Let's just say it's locked away in our vault and won't reappear unless he tries for a pay rise,' replied the chairman. As if you hadn't already guessed, we were discussing SmallBlue's top multi-manager guru, John Hoohellhee, who you may have noticed appearing in one or two high-profile articles that suggested he was no longer, um, very high-profile.
We were taking advantage of the 'Heavy Rioja 'n' roll' lunchtime offer at The Absent Page, where a portion of all proceeds go to barmaid Kerry Bless's favourite charity (something to do with saving Alan Brazil, I believe, so do give generously).
'What I don't understand is why you're getting so wound up about this,' I said. 'Since when did the extent of a manager's profile have anything to do with his ability to run money? I know it's the whole point of PR to narrow that gap but are you really saying Hoohellhee's lost it just because he's not being quoted as much as Harry Potter, Richard Swingbin and the rest?
'And anyway, what do we make of advisers who rate so highly such dubious virtues as glamour, prominence and the consciousness of the private investor? There was a time when that last idea only appeared at SmallBlue when you decreed it might be nice for managers coming back from lunch to display a degree of consciousness.'
'You may be right,' shrugged the chairman. 'But I still think he has a great chance of making the next series of Stars in their Eyes.' Sensing the need to change the subject, I said: 'I've never dared ask this before but what is the difference between fund of funds and multi-manager?' 'Absolutely no idea,' said the chairman cheerfully. 'We just have a policy of alternating the terms so people think we probably know what we're talking about.'
'I suspect you're not alone,' I said. 'But OK, here's another ' speaking of almost making it through a selection process, how do you feel not to be one of the five lucky winners of HSBC's Favourite Funds competition?' The smile vanished from the chairman's face and his eyes narrowed. 'Incandescent,' he replied. 'It's bad enough to lose out after HSBC's alleged rigorous examination of fund range, investment performance and commitment to customer care ' all of which are words we've heard of ' but did you see who got the nod?'
'Why so aggrieved to lose out to the good, good people of Fidelity, Gartmore, Invesco Perpetual, JP Morgan Fleming and Schroder?' I said alphabetically. 'Are they all not jostling for position at the very tippy-top of the fund management game ' at least in terms of assets under management?' 'Precisely my point,' replied the chairman. 'Whatever happened to variety? Wouldn't you say this is like going to a supermarket and being confronted by five large meat counters but no fruit, veg or anything else?'
'Super metaphor,' I said. 'And, yes, the thought had occurred. But hadn't we always known polarisation would squeeze the middle players?' 'Yes, but we niche types were still supposed to get a piece of the action,' retorted the chairman. 'That's not going to happen if all the banks take this 'only big is best' approach. No, I don't like this at all.'
'I'll tell you what I don't like,' I said. 'It's the way HSBC sent out a press release saying it had picked the five groups who in turn sent out releases saying how delighted they were to be picked. Actually I didn't get a release from Fidelity but maybe they didn't think I was worth one.
'Even so they did have a quote in the HSBC release so the final score was two delighteds, one pleased, one looking-forward and, more egocentrically, one our-experience-shows-this-could-work ' obviously Fidelity. So how are you going to make sure SmallBlue doesn't miss out in future?'
'I did have one thought,' said the chairman. 'You know those schoolgirls who wiped the floor with real fund managers in a recent fantasy portfolio competition? What do you reckon they'd see as an adequate starting salary?'
£300bn of liabilities
View from the front row
Transfer from occupational scheme
Appointed by FCA and PSR boards