The chairman admits to the rationale behind the group's latest product
'So let me get this straight,' I said to the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet. 'You're promising that investors in your Regressive Sloth fund will receive no less than the value of their initial investment at a specific future date?'
'That's right,' said the chairman.
'But you haven't yet specified a specific future date?'
'Right again,' said the chairman.
'So if you hang around long enough before specifically specifying the specific future date, the markets should recover and, with luck, you won't actually have to pay anything out at all?'
'Three out of three,' said the chairman. 'That wasn't so difficult, was it?'
'Well, no,' I said. 'Although I do have some difficulty with the fact you're offering the reassurance of cash but you might not end up paying it provided you get your dates right.'
'What are you talking about?' said the chairman. 'You're not trying to tell me we should go out of our way to boost market confidence and then stump up some cash as well, are you? That, I rather think, would be overkill.'
I let it pass, asking instead: 'And what do your competitors make of your selfless gesture?'
'Pretty much what you'd expect,' said the chairman. 'In public, they're all saying there's no need to follow the example of our, as you say, selfless gesture because the circumstances surrounding the marketing of Regressive Sloth are unique. Not sure what they're on about. Our slogan 'The sloth that won't turn your world upside-down' was designed to be utterly meaningless and we have the lawyers to prove it.'
'Of course you do,' I said. 'And I'm well aware what your competitors are saying in public. But what about in private?'
'Lots of hate mail,' replied the chairman. 'Really quite unprecedented amounts of hate mail.'
'Probably means you're doing something right,' I said. 'Unlike with your plans to merge with ABN Amro. I thought you were well in there. In fact, I kept hearing it was a foregone conclusion. How come Artemis squeezed ahead of you?'
'It's a long story,' said the chairman.
'Fine by me,' I said. 'I've still got half a column to fill.'
'Then it was like this,' said the chairman. 'We'd obviously had a bit of a sniff around ABN Amro and we liked what we saw ' the people, the ethos, the ¦'
'¦ assets under management?' I suggested.
'I admit the assets had a certain attraction,' said the chairman, whose target over the past couple of years has been to grow SmallBlue Planet to a not insignificant size. 'But you must understand, there are far greater considerations in a potential merger of two investment houses such as, as I said, the people, the ethos ¦'
'¦and the assets under management?' I tried again.
'All right, all right, we also quite fancied a slice of their UK action,' conceded the chairman. 'And with them one growth star manager and one income star manager down and us having, well, some growth managers and some income managers, things were initially looking promising.'
'So what happened?' I asked.
'If you'd stop interrupting, I'd tell you,' said the chairman. 'We then looked at the rest of their fund range and saw some other good fits ' after all, we could always market the promise of their US fund while the promise of our one is all marketed out. What's more, their European fund is even worse than ours, which is really good for our morale. And as for more specialist offerings, can you believe they don't have a single tech fund? We have three and then there's our range of African single-country funds.
'It kept getting better ' they don't have a chairman, we don't have a chief executive. They don't have a cordon bleu chef for the boardroom, we don't have a compliance department. We were almost over the finishing line before somebody pointed out that both companies employed a tea-boy with a sideline in photocopying. We were supposed to be growing the business, not forging a cost-cutting deal. Oh well, maybe it just wasn't meant to be.'
'You could always have changed their job descriptions,' I suggested. 'You know, one could have been chief tea-boy and vice-president in charge of photocopying, the other the other way round. You never know, it might have worked.'
I stopped talking ' the chairman was giving me a very odd look.
£300bn of liabilities
View from the front row
Transfer from occupational scheme
Appointed by FCA and PSR boards