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Valuable lessons

Speaking at the Investment Management Association’s annual dinner last month, IMA Chairman Robert Jenkins told the investment management industry and its guests that even though the credit crunch was not | yet over, it was not too soon for all those caught up in it to learn a few lessons.

Of course, there is more to come but there is no harm in improving our understanding of what went wrong and learning from that sooner rather than later. All too often, the lessons are drawn too late or not at all.

For the regulator, the key lesson is the importance of heeding the danger of leverage and for the investment management industry, the key lesson is the need to fully understand what it is buying.

In other words, if we do not understand it, we should not buy it and if our clients cannot understand it, we should not sell it.

Of course, the asset management industry does not “own” its customers’ money and there are many investor protection meas-ures in place to safeguard that money in a way that is not true of other investment products.

Nevertheless, as an industry, we would do well to remember that it is not our money. We have an important role in the economy and in facilitating saving and we can best fulfil these roles by putting the interests of investors first and foremost.

While it is perfectly understandable that fashionable products are often launched when times are good – dot.com funds being a prime example of a trendy product taking off at just the wrong time – we have a duty to remain vigilant to the effects of such fads.

We also need to be clear about what it is that we as an industry offer to savers.

It is the ability to access the markets and diversify their savings in a cost-effective way, buying into a range of assets in a way they would not be able to do on their own.

But we also need to be clear about what we cannot do – we cannot guarantee or promise to make people rich.

Instead, we should be seen as offering professional services to give individuals the opportunity to maintain and increase their wealth.

And this comes with a responsibility to make sure that the packaging is appropriate to the product. Recent events are a useful reminder that less liquid assets may not always be appropriate for open-ended funds.

Why is all of this important? Because we have seen recently the ire which has been directed at the private equity and hedge fund industries and do not want to fall into the same trap.

Indeed, we should do what we can to avoid it. This means acting responsibly and not allowing, let alone encouraging, expectations which we cannot meet.

If the time comes when we are under the same level of scrutiny we must not have failed to deliver on our basic mission and we should have been clear about what that mission was.

Mona Patel is head of communications at the Investment Management Association

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