The chairman's idea for attracting new investors is a stroke of genius
Over the years, the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet ' along with its chairman's previous operations ' has been responsible for pioneering many of the innovations that have made Her Majesty's financial services industry the complete and utter bastion it is today.
This depth of vision has been behind the company's ongoing assault on the investing for children market that is currently proving so popular among fund management groups. Or, as the chairman put it as he welcomed me to SmalllBlue's offices the other day: 'One of our biggest concerns has been the severe drop in the level of equity market participation by investors.'
'Well, scary markets do have a habit of scaring investors,' I replied. 'Hence 'scary'.'
'Nonsense,' snorted the chairman. 'It's irresponsibility, plain and simple. And the sooner the punters realise that the better. So what better way of reminding them of their responsibilities than to underline the importance of investing for children? If they can't be bothered to look out for their own financial futures, the least they can do is think about their dear little kiddies'.'
'Isn't that known in some circles as blackmail?' I asked.
'I think our marketing boys prefer to put it slightly differently,' said the chairman. 'Although I believe the phrase 'guilt trip' may be involved. But that wasn't really why I asked you here. Follow me.'
So I did ' through into the courtyard that is banked on all four sides by SmallBlue's offices. I would have asked where we were going but the signs for 'SmallBlue Planet Petting Zoo ' Adults £10, children £9.50' rather gave it away.
I guess seeing the Shetland pony in a cage should have set off warning bells but it was only when we got to the sheep 'pen' that I began to worry. 'Why are they on the other side of a moat?' I asked. I thought this was supposed to be a petting zoo.'
'And so it is,' replied the chairman, passing me a large pole with a foam-rubber hand at one end. 'Want a go?'
'Er ¦ no,' I said, something else having caught my attention. 'Um ¦ those look like rabbits and guinea-pigs in little straitjackets and what I can only describe as Hannibal Lecter masks.'
'Too right,' shuddered the chairman. 'Horrid, nasty little creatures and a real danger to our punters. If it was down to me, I'd only let anyone near them if they'd signed a declaration they fully understood the sort of havoc an unfettered bunny rabbit can wreak and accepted all the associated risks. Anyway, the straitjackets provide an element of protection should they fall into our Piranha Paddling Pool.'
'No chance of that happening here,' I said. 'Because I think that very large snake is going to get them first.'
I pointed the chairman towards what I guessed was some sort of python ' some 10 feet in length and with three distinct bumps about halfway down its body.
'Better call one of your keepers,' I said. 'Get that back to its cage before you lose any more of your killer rodents.'
'Oh we don't keep any of our snakes in cages,' smiled the chairman indulgently. 'It would be unfair to all the other poisonous, biting, pointy-toothed creatures we let slither, swim and scuttle round our zoo. You see, we've come into this with an open mind. Ordinary punters generally do not seem to have become involved with your average snake or scorpion. We have to ask ourselves, is this the right balance, or is there scope to make such creatures more accessible?'
But I wasn't really listening, my right shoe having turned into a large mass of hair, legs and the sort of teeth my mental bouncers don't even let into my nightmares.
'Please could somebody stop that enormous spider crawling up my trouser leg?' is what I would have politely asked if my vocal chords had been working. That not being the case, I took the only other course of action that seemed reasonable.
SmallBlue Planet has very kindly chosen not to charge me for the cost of one very rare, very expensive and now very flat baboon spider and in a similar spirit I have chosen not to charge them for a new pair of shoes. You know, in all the excitement, I quite forgot to bring up the subject of the Financial Services Authority's discussion paper on making hedge funds available to private investors.
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