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The crying game

Do you know the thing I am finding most difficult about this business?” asked the managing director of Huxley Epsilon, the self-proclaimed future of financial advice.

“Is it the regulators?” I offered as an educated guess.

“OK, the other thing,” said the MD.

“The journalists?” I tried again.

“All right, the other, other thing,” said the MD.

“In that case,” I replied, “it has got to be the clients, hasn’t it?”

“Got it in one,” nodded the MD. “Well, three.”

“Then the bad news is, I am led to believe that clients do rather come with the territory,” I said. “What do you find so tricky about them?”

“Mainly, I would have to say it’s the crying,” replied the MD.

“The crying?” I asked. “Surely that would be among all your staff?”

“My staff?” said the MD, looking confused. “Why would my staff be crying?”

“It is just the way your father generally prefers to run his companies,” I said. “But I see that’s another thing that doesn’t run in the family.”

“I should hope not,” said the MD. “No, it’s very definitely the clients who are doing the crying and not, I assure you, because of anything my firm may or may not have done to or for them.

“I think it is just that everything is so jolly depressing at the moment, from the weather to Andy Murray seeming to be allergic to grand slam semi-finals and that is before we even get on to the financial and economic Armageddon predicted by almost every national newspaper and TV show.

“Of course, I try to help them all, really I do. I listen as they sob through their problems and then I try and extrapolate some sort of financial solution. However, I seem to be going through more boxes of tissues than I do fact-finds. Which leads on to another problem I am facing – what I call Mick Jagger syndrome.”

“And that is?” I asked.

“How every client knows what they want, they just don’t know what they need,” the MD replied. “So we are seeing this polarisation where half the people who walk through the door want to invest in emerging markets or commodities while the other half are looking for something safer than a bank account.

“And, yes, while that may leave a lot of options for the second half, the way banks look nowadays, I do not think that is really what they mean. Then, of course, most of the people looking for the high-risk stuff should actually be a bit more careful – and vice versa – and yet hardly anyone seems willing to listen to any advice I may eventually give anyway.”

“Actually, I can almost understand that,” I said. As I saw the MD’s face fall, I added quickly: “I really did not mean that to come out as rudely as it did. It is just that, have you noticed how it is not only financial advisers who feel qualified to give advice these days, it is coming from some unexpected quarters?

“Just taking two recent consecutive front pages of The Times as an example, we first had the Prime Minister recasting himself as some sort of home economics teacher or latter-day Fanny Craddock, telling us how we are wasting too much food and that we really ought to be making more use of our leftovers.

“The very next day, there was David Cameron telling obese, poor and addicted people to help themselves – which, at least in the first two cases, seems to be rather open to misinterpretation.

“I suppose what I am saying is that with this much advice on offer as to how to live our lives, from Number 10 downwards, you should not be surprised if your clients have reached saturation point.

“My – ahem – advice would be to stick to your knitting as it should pay off in the end. Surely you have noticed how everything in this industry is a metaphor for itself so, if you invest the time now, when things improve, most of your clients will remember who was holding the box of tissues for them during the bad times.

“You never know, maybe Murray will have made a semi by then as well.”

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