The golden years

The AITC’s Geoff Procter looks back and forward after nearly 40 years in financial services.

The UK still traded in pounds, shillings and pence when I joined the world of financial services in 1968, a mind-expanding currency for those not familiar with it.

I discovered that investment trusts had been around for over 100 years when I joined Friends Provident as a clerical assistant all those years ago in the Swinging 60s.

Ironically for me, the oldest investment trust, Foreign & Colonial, and the investment trust division of Friends Provident are now in the same financial stable. I wish I had practised then what I now preach about regular savings into equities. I got our statistics team to run some numbers – if I had saved £50 a month in the average global growth investment trust from December 31, 1967, it would have been worth £248,540 on Dec-ember 31 last year. If I had inv-ested a lump sum of £1,000, it would now be worth £49,600.

Having spent so many years in the life, pensions and unit trust arena and having now worked with investment trusts at first hand for the past five years, my imminent retirement to a new life in Wiltshire has given me time to reflect on the future for the investment trust business, particularly in the adviser market, and the Association of Investment Trust Companies’ adviser strategy.

Joining the AITC at the start of the high-profile marketing campaign and with the FTSE 100 standing at the heady level of 6,000-plus was not a bad place to begin a new venture. There was much enthusiasm and optimism as well as perhaps a touch of euphoria. Although times have changed, much of the very good work going on behind the scenes in areas such as public affairs, in training and in dealing with complicated technical matters continues to support the AITC’s members in the delivery of shareholder value and is an area which continues to be developed.

One of the major factors in building investment trust purchases in the adviser market is the development of the trading platforms for IFAs, where assets are separated from product, fees and charges are clear, and valuations across a range of investments and products can be achieved in an instant.

In my humble view, it is not a case of whether IFAs should use these wraps but more a matter of when. They should seek out those which will include all UK-listed sec-urities and funds and not just a pre-selected range.

These transaction platforms comply easily with the growing call for transparent products, where portfolio planning and asset allocation can be provided much more simply. They can also help greatly in developing a fee/ commission menu.

There is a strong core of investment trust fans among the stockbroking and investment IFA community, who appreciate and use some of the subtle differences between closed-end and open-ended funds and continue to recommend them for a variety of good reasons.

There are others who say their clients do not understand investment trusts. Yet many of these very same clients appear to have no problem at all in understanding life company with-profits investment bonds and the dilution levy on Oeics, judging by the contents of their portfolios.

Over the past five years, the AITC has evolved, as planned, away from providing the spearhead of the industry’s sales and marketing. It has developed relationships with trade and professional bodies, who have as their members individuals and firms, who are in a position to use investment trusts as a regular part of their business.

New initiatives such as share buybacks and the ability of trusts to hold shares in treasury to sell on at a later date has helped trusts manage their discounts and six trusts have introduced discount control mechanisms in the last year.

Board independence has been strengthened and this can be seen in the increasing number of cases where fund managers have been replaced (21 since 2003 compared with 11 in the previous four years).

The AITC is now offering more technical training than ever before, to stockbrokers, IFAs, management group staff and non-executive directors and we continue to talk to the general public on a regular basis through our very successful private investor roadshows.

Our activities are published on our website, which gives daily information on performance, stock exchange announcements, technical matters and there is even an interactive quiz to test your knowledge.

If you have not yet logged on to the AITC please visit www.aitc.co.uk. It will continue to be one of my favourites long after I leave the business as I try to turn my pension fund into something a little more substantial.

Retiring from the City brings with it some sadness as I have made a lot of good friends but I will not miss the five hours’ commuting every day and I will not miss some of the red tape. I know most of the regulars in my local (my new best friends) find it hard to tell if the FSA is about financial services, food additives or football supporters.

In conclusion, I remember going to David Bowie’s farewell concert in 1971, so, who knows, like Aladdin Sane, one day I may be back.

Geoff Procter is director education, sales and training at the Association of Investment Trust Companies. He retires at the end of March.

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