It was hard work – but then it always was in the past. A two-year absence from the premier retail financial services conference had made me expectant and potentially critical on the likely out-turn of events. Expectant, because I had never before travelled on the Oriana. Potentially critical, because of the way in which more people to whom I talked in the financial services industry were questioning the value of conferences such as this. I returned to Southampton little wiser on the benefits PIMS delivered but having caught up with a number of people.
Michael Portillo's opening remarks were worrying for the first quarter hour or so. Ten out of ten for delivery but only two for the originality of the jokes. For a moment, I was concerned there would be little substance but eventually he came through with thought-provoking content and gave us as even-handed a speech that you could have hoped for from a potential Tory leader on the eve of the general election. His was just one of four impressive keynote speeches.
There was a noticeable international leaning to the main sessions this year. A Japanese-American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku brought us up to speed as to what life would be like in the year 2020. Whether you were encouraged by his predictions depended on how you viewed the possibility of teleconferencing via glasses and wearing clothes capable of alerting an ambulance should you be involved in an accident. Another American regaled us with advice on giving customers what they really wanted, along with a little demographic spin. Did you know the biggest shift in purchasing power was to the working woman? It seems three times as many women with small children are in full-time employment compared with 30 years ago.
Then there was the closing speech – one of the best I've heard. A South African game warden turned management consultant, Ian Thomas lectured us on teamwork. Among the phrases I took away intending to use was the old proverb that if you swim with sharks you should try not to look like food. Most of the sharks in our industry have had their teeth pulled but the analogy between good teamwork and the way in which a pride of lions co-operated made a fine tale. As our final speaker pointed out, if a lioness has brought down a powerful prey and is expecting help from her sisters, the last thing she expects is an email pointing out that no one else had been aware of the problem in sufficient time to deliver assistance. This less than helpful approach in business must strike a chord with most of us.
The PIMS conference provided a great networking opportunity and enabled me to talk with many industry people whom I might not have seen for some time. It had its high spots. Govett's Bill de Lucy reaffirmed his love affair with vintage port while Paul Bourton of Legg Mason Investors was much in evidence, reminding those on board he was back in the mainstream. There were plenty who partied all night but probably as many who, like me, considered that advancing years brought with them an inability to stay the pace.
But I wonder if the content of the presentations was not just a little too bland. Those sessions I attended were not uniformly mind-stretching. Some were interesting, true, but others gave little into which you could sink your teeth. There again, I was a speaker. Perhaps my contribution could have been sharper but at least a number of IFAs asked for copies of my slides. Unfortunately, I lost the folder with all the relevant addresses so if you are expecting documentary evidence of my contribution but it hasn't arrived, blame me. And PIMS 2001.