Opinion  

Communication key when Barnett takes helm from Woodford

John Lappin

Is it fair to question the wisdom of Invesco Perpetual for deciding to run a webcast interview with Mark Barnett, hosted from its own offices?

Yes, it involved an independent journalist and yes questions were fielded from a range of advisers. But it all felt a bit of a safety-first approach, which may not turn out to be all that safe.

One has to wonder whether, with so much at stake, the format really suited the situation. It almost felt as if the final question would be “and is there anything you would like to add, prime minister?” from the 1950s school of political interviews.

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Of course, you may say that questions from advisers are more than sufficient and that journalists should not ‘self appoint’ themselves guardians of your clients’ money. Yet huge numbers of people are direct investors in Income and High Income and given that Invesco will not necessarily be able to reach them all, then surely journalists need better access.

In fact, arguably both advisers and journalists need better access. There were surely at least three or four follow-up questions around managing redemptions to be asked, after the one answer we received. It also sounds as if a huge amount of responsibility is being placed on Mr Barnett’s shoulders, including helping recruit more talent.

Chelsea Financial Services’ Darius McDermott has already raised a question about whether Mr Barnett may be doing too much across a huge range of funds.

But those issues aside, there is also some risk that without some sort of charm offensive things could go badly wrongly. Contrary to recent misguided debates, that doesn’t have to involve dining at Le Gavroche. It does mean giving the journalists concerned access to the right people.

At the moment, in fund management those two ‘right’ people are Neil Woodford and Mark Barnett. Assuming that Invesco isn’t going to be keen to blaze a trail for the former, that means providing decent access to the latter.

One can understand a fund firm’s reluctance. Journalists can be young or unnecessarily hostile or determined to follow a line to the cost of all other things, including if not quite accuracy then certainly common sense.

Yet in this instance access surely minimises the risks and most journalists do not want to be responsible for a big run on a fund – although both trade and consumer journalists will want to give their readers the best information possible.

That doesn’t mean – post handover – that the fund manager concerned should be on the phone every half hour to the FT, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, thisismoney and the rest. Yet surely it is best to be open now on the understanding that circumstances and events may make it more difficult later.

This is probably a more difficult handover than Fidelity Special Situations, because Invesco Perpetual will have to deal with a king over the water – or in this case more likely a king with an office just down the river somewhere.