The chairman's got his eye on things but it's not so much CCTV as FSATV
'Did you see that programme on office surveillance the other night?' I asked the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet. We were sitting in the company's board room where the two of us had just enjoyed an adequate lunch with the managing director and SmallBlue Planet's US boss, who the chairman feels needs to raise his profile in light of the latest vogue for North American funds.
Personally I've never been a fan of in-house lunches: more often than not the food is poor and the atmosphere worse as, unlike restaurants, there's nobody to laugh at sitting at another table for a bit of light relief. The home team is always tempted to field too many players so it feels more like a university interview than lunch and, worst of all, everybody feels they have to talk about work. And we all know how fun that can be.
Mind you, my views on in-house lunches are nothing compared to the chairman who positively loathes them ' partly for the reasons I've mentioned and partly because he knows he has to behave. In fact, the only thing he hates more is a feeling he's not getting his money's worth from his employees. Today's lunch, at least for the head of the US desk, had lasted precisely 60 minutes.
For us it had gone on substantially longer and, as I said, we were now on the subject of office surveillance. 'It made pretty disturbing television, I thought,' I continued.
'What do you think?' The chairman and the MD shot each other one of their conspiratorial looks. 'Here at SmallBlue Planet we believe every employee has the right to go about their business free from snooping and unwanted attention,' said the MD.
'Absolutely,' said the chairman. 'That's why we have installed an extensive network of hidden cameras, bugs and computer supervision technology to ensure this right is being respected.' 'Except by you two,' I said. 'Too right except by us two,' said the MD. 'Do you know what this lot would do if they thought we weren't watching? They'd fleece us ' starting with the stationery and finishing with our offshore accounts.'
'Here, we'll prove it,' said the chairman reaching for a remote control. He pressed a button and the large portrait of his younger self standing by his father slid silently to one side revealing an array of screens.
'Now where will we find that young analyst who's just finished his induction week?' he asked. 'I think he's running the Latin American desk today,' replied the MD, so the chairman pressed some more buttons on his remote control. The screen came to life to show a young man huddled over his desk writing some notes. When he had finished, he appeared to put his biro into his jacket pocket.
'Just as we suspected,' said the chairman punching at another button. The young man suddenly collapsed onto the floor where he lay motionless for a few seconds before dazedly clambering back onto his chair.
The chairman reached for a microphone and enunciated slowly: 'Put ¦ the ¦ pen ¦ back ¦ on ¦ the ¦ desk.' Then he turned to the MD who, like him, was silently shaking his head. 'These youngsters, eh?' he smiled.
'You tell them about the electrodes in the chairs at their induction week but do they listen? They do not. Always think we're joking, you know.'
'Extraordinary,' I said enthusiastically, making a mental note to keep the chairman happy while he was carrying his remote control and desperately trying to work out if my own chair was similarly wired up. 'So what's that screen that's set away from all the others?' I asked, deciding that extreme interest was the best way forward.
'That one?' said the chairman. 'You've heard of CCTV? Well that's FSATV.' 'Now that would stand for Free-Standing ¦ Additional ¦ er ¦' 'Oh very droll indeed,' said the chairman reaching for his remote control. 'Aaaaagghhhh, noooooooooo,' I said suavely, diving off my chair.
'Whatever is the matter?' asked the chairman blankly. 'I was just going to give you a demonstration. Look, our very own Financial Services Authority Television beamed straight from a little camera we have set up in Canary Wharf ' from one boardroom to another so to speak. You were talking about disturbing telly ' well get a load of this ¦'
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