A complicated menu brings a familiar sense of confusion for the chairman
The waitress was beginning to get impatient but the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet and I had been scanning our menus for some 15 minutes and were no closer to a decision. Yes, it was probably our fault for choosing a Finnish restaurant, The Tineke Frikkee, but we really liked the name.
'It's no use,' said the chairman. 'I still have absolutely no idea what to have.'
'You could try the old journalistic ploy and choose the most expensive things on the menu,' I said. 'Or we could always ask the waitress for some advice.'
'Never like doing that,' said the chairman. 'She could simply be trying to shift one of the more expensive or less popular dishes even though she didn't think I'd like it. And as for that journalist trick ' which, incidentally, I had long suspected ' I'm always wary about choosing anything purely on price.'
'Fine arguments indeed,' I said. 'And ones that remind me of some financial issue as confusing as the Frikkee menu, though I can't think what.'
'If confusion's involved, the FSA can't be far away,' said the chairman.
'You're probably right,' I agreed. 'But that doesn't really narrow it down. After all, they do plenty of things I don't agree with but you can't fault their enthusiasm for churning out documents. Do those guys ever take a holiday? In the last four days of October alone, they published a discussion paper on higher ethical standards in the City, new rules on professional indemnity insurance for intermediaries and research to back the revolutionary idea that consumers can save money by shopping around. Oh yes, and they announced they wanted to develop a menu approach to paying for financial advice. Hey, do you think that's what I was trying to remember?'
'I wouldn't have thought so,' said the chairman. 'I don't see much connection between that and our conversation about uncertainty, potential bias, cost, unsuitable purchases and....well, OK, maybe a slight connection. But I hope that wasn't what you wanted to talk about as I'm beginning to find the whole topic unutterably dull.
'It seems perfectly clear to me the FSA doesn't trust commission but a frontal assault ran into even more flak than it was prepared to deal with so it retreated, had a bit of think and came back with this menu compromise. You wouldn't have had to be Mystic Meg to predict that was going to happen. It just means a long, lingering death for commission rather than a quick bullet to the back of the head.'
'I can't fault your reasoning, although your imagery at the dinner table leaves a little to be desired,' I said. 'But maybe we're being unfair to the FSA when we accuse it of coming up with its half-baked plans that wind up Her Majesty's financial industry so much it has to fudge a compromise. Maybe it's just an inherently female organisation.'
'Controversial,' said the chairman. 'But I'm sure you're about to explain yourself.'
'Of course,' I said. 'The other day, I read that an Australian human relations and body language guru called Allan Pease told a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development conference women and men are hugely different when it comes to talking. Apparently, because women evolved in a group situation with other women and children close to the cave, the ability to bond through talking was paramount to survival. When men were hunting or fishing, no one talked for fear of startling the prey.
'Pease says brain scans show a woman's brain is highly utilised in speech and language functions and can effortlessly output 6,000 to 8,000 spoken words a day, using both sides of the brain. A man's maximum output is around 2,000 to 4,000 spoken words, using only part of the left brain. As such, says Pease, a working man can exhaust his word output by mid afternoon, then arrive home to a woman who may still have 4,000 to 5,000 words to go.'
'Your thesis interests me strangely,' said the chairman. 'Tell me more.'
'OK,' I said. 'Pease also says ' and this is what I meant about the FSA ' that to men, women often seem vague or beat around the bush rather than getting straight to the point. This is known as 'indirect speech', something men only pretend to understand and ¦'
'Enough,' interrupted the waitress. 'Order now or leave. Is that direct enough for you?'
Partner Insight: For Blackfinch, the arrival of its IHT portfolio services was a 'natural evolution' in the group's offering and points to an established track record of returning cash to investors.
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