So where are we now? Partly in a good place. The future of the global financial system has been secured (until the next time), asset prices have risen, steady global economic growth has been achieved and unemployment cut. On a more micro scale, whilst banks’ reluctance to lend has caused tensions, the asset management industry has partly stepped in to provide private debt solutions, leading to an attractive new asset class for long term investors.
However, there are worrying consequences too and further lessons to be learnt. First, those consequences…
The massive quantitative easing (central banks buying bonds) has to be unwound and some estimates suggest the sums involved are in excess of $20 trillion. It has gone on too long with record low interest rates over a prolonged period causing pain for savers and worrying asset price bubbles. If a crisis were to occur tomorrow, there is no further fire power in central banks’ arsenal until policies are reversed.
Government debt has also soared, causing austerity measures that have acerbated the divide between rich and poor. All this sowing the seeds of the populist surge in politics we are seeing now.
The unfortunate consequences point to lessons still to be learnt. If capitalism is to succeed it needs to retain consensual support and that means implementing firm measures to encourage long termism in our financial system.
Disparity of wealth within companies needs to be tackled too. Executive pay amongst FTSE 100 CEO’s, for example, went up 11% last year to £3.93m whilst that of full-time workers rose 2%. The mean pay-out ratio between FTSE 100 bosses and their workers has been on a steadily rising trend, up from 128:1 to 145:1 in 2016/17 alone. Such inequality and the feelings of injustice that accompany them, have arguably led to Trump, Brexit and other challenging populist political consequences, all of which can be traced back to the events of 2008.
Here in the UK, policies across all arms of government are under review but so too is corporate governance, with a view to correcting key elements of short-termism and fairness in society. There is a massive opportunity for the asset management industry to play its activist part on a host of issues from executive pay to diversity issues and broader ESG initiatives, let alone helping to solve a growing savings and retirement crisis. No wonder the industry is in the spotlight. How great it would be if it continues to take a lead in learning the lessons of 2008.