The latest episode, while undeniably entertaining, did however give me a more than a moment’s pause. Its central focus was the investment and retirement industries and the challenges that, in this case, US businesses and employees face in constructing and managing 401K pension plans. Of particular note was the focus on investment professionals and role asset managers, advisers and consultants play within the process.
In such a context, it is probably not a surprise to hear that investment and retirement professionals did not come out of the programme’s analysis well. Active management was particularly criticised for the levels of seemingly hidden fees that eat away at savings, while there were less than subtle suggestions that a commission-based business model meant that advisers were acting in their own interests rather than those of their clients. Put more simply, the implication of the programme overall was that investment and retirement professionals are rarely responsible fiduciaries of their clients’ assets.
Professionals in the space will doubtless recoil in horror at such criticisms and it would certainly be more than a little unreasonable to tar everyone with the same brush. Yet, the focus of this particular programme makes it very clear that the investment industry continues to suffer from negative stereotypes and a subsequent problem with perception. Further pressure from the media is likely – one only needs to look at the pension mess arising from the BHS bankruptcy to see further storm clouds on the horizon.
Whether we like it or not, investment, retirement and savings are no longer topics solely in the domain of specialist financial media. These are mainstream news items and will continue to be so, particularly as the retirement industry evolves, distribution channels blur and greater emphasis is put on underlying consumers themselves. In such a context, such negative stereotypes are at best unhelpful and worst, highly debilitating. The efforts by the industry and regulators to introduce greater transparency are a start, but much more work is still needed to move people’s gaze away from the more negative aspects of the investment world and focus attention on the genuine value investment managers, consultants and advisers can deliver.