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It’s just not cricket, Fidelity

The fund manager merry-go-round just never stops. We are told that one in 10 funds are affected by a fund manager move every year. There have been 120 changes already this year.

It was interesting to see research from Best Invest showing that the groups that have rung the most changes over the past 12 months have suffered from dismal performance. Henderson, for instance, has made 15 changes and its funds have frequently been shamed on Best Invest’s dog list. It is a positive sign that a group is attempting to resurrect performance with a mass change in personnel.

What’s more, most of the 120 changes have probably been incidental to investors. I doubt that many IFAs fell off their chairs on hearing that Nick Ford would no longer co-manage the 77m Gartmore US smaller companies fund with Gil Knight. On the other hand, the recent announcement that up and coming European manager Leon Howard-Spink had quit Jupiter for Schroders might have stirred more interest. Howard-Spink has been catching the eye for some time while Adriaan de Mol van Otterloo, the man he replaced, has also been winning plaudits. Importantly, plenty of IFA clients would have been affected by the changes.

But it is the latest fund manager merry-go-round at Fidelity that has set the tongues wagging. In a move that has raised more than a few eyebrows, Sanjeev Shah has stepped down from the UK aggressive fund to run the European aggressive fund.

I have had this hunch that Shah has been going by the nickname of Fab for the past couple of years. Why Fab? Back in the 1980s, a young Michael Atherton was given the nickname Fec as soon as he started playing first-class cricket for Lancashire because everyone presumed he would go on to captain his country. The initials FEC (Future England Captain) were duly etched on his locker and a few years later he would go on to lead his country 54 times. If anybody has had the initials FAB (Future Anthony Bolton) etched on their locker at Fidelity, it is likely to have been Shah.

Over the past 12 months, the Fidelity PR machine has played a blinder, with Shah being paraded in front of IFAs and journalists alike. Not many fund managers get a full-page profile in a major national newspaper, let alone those with just a few years’ experience. Shah did and even secured the headline, Fidelity’s stockpicking crown prince, during the Isa season, a time when personal finance readers are looking for tips on where to invest. The attention being paid to Shah naturally gave the impression that Fidelity believes he can take over Bolton’s mantle.

Now, after months of promoting Shah, investors have suddenly discovered he is no longer running their fund and instead, Mark Hodges will take charge of his first retail fund.

Has Shah been put in charge of a billion-pound-plus fund to get used to managing big money in a similar vein to Bolton’s special situations fund or has he been shifted to the European mandate simply because of the sudden departure of the incumbent David Baverez and they feel he is the best option? After all, Shah gained European experience having been an analyst covering a variety of sectors before taking over the UK aggressive fund. What is certain is that hundreds of investors have bought into the UK aggressive fund because of Shah’s credentials.

Not surprisingly, many IFAs cannot understand why a manager that has been pushed and pushed by sales reps has “effectively” been removed from view. They want a proper explanation and I do not blame them.

Fidelity says it is part of “a long-standing programme to ensure the development of our pool of talented younger fund managers”. Conjecture has surrounded special situations and Bolton’s replacement. Fidelity must have a masterplan up its sleeve. But what irks me is that Fidelity has made no secret that it needs to get its younger managers in the limelight because of Bolton’s imminent retirement. It has been gaining sales in the past year or so by parading Shah, well aware that people are assuming that he is being groomed as its next Bolton. People who have bought the story and his fund have suddenly discovered he has moved on. As Michael Atherton might say, that’s just not cricket.

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