New year, new client conversations, new CPD requirements. With so much going on in the world, I dived headlong into a couple of the conferences on offer this month.
The pensions and financial planning content was as thought-provoking and interesting as ever. But the presentations made at a conference run by one of the larger, more successful asset management groups really got me thinking.
I had chosen my sessions around income from investments, as this is proving to be a real concern for some clients. So it was good to sit with quality fund managers from across a wide range of bond, property and equity income strategies.
However, the lasting impression I took from the day was less about the income issues and more about the fact that even these brightest of fund managers are feeling dazed and confused (incidentally, so was the economics speaker but nothing new there, I guess).
Presentation after presentation made reference to the massive concerns around Brexit, Trump, China, emerging markets, the dollar, sterling, bond yields and the upcoming European elections, as well as the issues associated with the rise of the disenchanted, disenfranchised populist voter.
Rarely have I seen a single investment house allow its managers to be just so candid about their lack of understanding of what might transpire in investment markets in the short term.
Some managers thought the “Trump effect” was real, while others argued it had already begun before, his election simply hastened it. Some thought it would continue for some time; others were far less certain about its potential for break-out momentum.
This went far beyond the usual “push-me, pull-you” that typically goes on between equity and bond managers. There was a real air of not being entirely sure what to do.
Would the pro-business rhetoric exhibited by Trump really be good for the US economy and jobs? Would US interest rate rises really be sustainable? Could Marine Le Pen gain the ground needed in the French elections to cause even more European turmoil? Which will be the next Italian bank to require money? What kind of Brexit is the UK heading for? Will the Scottish National Party manage to force a second referendum?
I could go on but you get the picture. After all, this is the sort of thing we are all being asked by clients. As financial planners we tend to play down the background noise and encourage our clients to stay the course; to stay invested. Keep calm and carry on.
However, if the brightest and the best in the investment world are so confused, perhaps we should be spending even more time than normal speaking to clients and helping them understand what is happening, what might happen and the potential consequences for their hard-earned capital.
On the top of the Gordian Knot that is UK pension planning the last thing we need is clients becoming even more dazed and confused.
Lee Robertson is chief executive of Investment Quorum