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People in glass houses

I fear I may have left myself open to a charge of hypocrisy or at least inconsistency. Obviously, and ironically enough, inconsistency is the foundation on which many a successful newspaper columnist’s career has been built but it is something I do my best to avoid in my own work – if only so I feel more able to laugh smugly when the really glaring examples are highlighted in Private Eye.

Writing in this very space and only last week about the recent OBSR Honours for Excellence in Investment, I focused on the speech by keynote speaker and Resolution chairman Clive Cowdery, who offered a corporate investor’s view of what is driving change in the financial services industry. This, as you may or may not remember, came in three parts – why the industry needs to be restructured, who should lead the process and what it means for asset managers and other financial services companies.

A restructured industry was necessary, Cowdery argued, because it is not currently possible for fund managers “coolly and rationally” to allocate capital to the securities of financial services companies as their behaviour is too unpredictable. Furthermore, this restructuring should be led by fund managers, argued Cowdery, adding: “Private equity, vultures and other sources of capital cannot be allowed to capture the restructuring gains.”

As to what this means for asset managers and the rest, Cowdery foresaw two camps forming, the first made up of those wanting to resist change. “That stance is an unhelpful route for any of us,” he suggested, before going on to describe the second camp as “accelerators”.

These are the people who say change is going to happen, it will happen over the next period of my career and so I am going to position myself to take part,” he elaborated.

As I mentioned last week, it was a clever speech, excellently delivered, but at least one member of the audience – that would be me – felt it was a little on the self-serving side. What an amazing coincidence it is that the only way the financial services industry can hope to survive and flourish is by following the example of a Mr C Cowdery and the company he runs.

Never one to miss a trick, I suggested this was tanta-mount to me declaring the only way investors will make money over the next decade is by investing in emerging markets. Now, who do we know who’s just had a book published on that very subject?

I probably should not have been so sanctimonious because, a day or two after filing my piece, it occurred to me the Cowdery analysis is not so different from my own take on the RDR – a number of truths on which topic I hold to be self-evident.

For starters, the RDR will restructure the advice sector and, for a main course, financial advisers really do need to buy into the process. Yes, I suppose they could pretend RDR is not happening or pray for an increasingly unlikely 11th-hour reprieve, but hopefully anyone who does pick that option has a suitable plan B as to how they are going to earn a living from January 2013.

In my day job, I have been a strong advocate of advisers pitching their tents firmly in Cowdery’s second camp – if not as “accelerators”, then certainly as those “who say change is going to happen, it will happen over the next period of my career and so I am going to position myself to take part”.

For what it may or may not be worth, Cowdery also mentioned in his speech that “fear is generally a pretty poor path to take to fashion a career”.

So it would appear I have been mildly critical of Cowdery for pushing his worldview while doing something pretty similar on a regular basis at the first of the addresses below.

Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps but, then again, maybe I can escape that charge by pleading I tend to be less prescriptive in my opinions than the Resolution chairman was in his “one true way” sermon. Inconsistent then? Perhaps – though I dare say I will still feel able to laugh smugly at Private Eye.

Julian Marr is editorial director of www.marketing-hub.co.uk

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