James Coney  

Hargeaves takes a leap with client communications

James Coney

James Coney

We have seen massive strides forward in terms of communicating fund performance in the past year.

The greatest step has been, as I have said before, the publication of fund value reports.

In the handful we have seen already, there has been repricing, acknowledgements that retail investors are not getting as good a deal as institutional investors, and even some fund closures.

It is quite staggering how such an unheralded rule change could have such a significant impact.

And now I feel like we are getting there in terms of how the big investment sales houses are starting to think about communicating with their customers.

The biggest of the lot, Hargreaves Lansdown, is in the process of unveiling updates for investors that seek to close the gap between the garbled language of fund factsheets and the expectations of ordinary savers who want straightforward analysis of performance, objectives and process.

Clearly for the fund supermarkets, communicating with DIY investors is not an easy task.

You do not want to developed tailored solutions, for obvious regulatory reasons, and the individual requirements of different investors are likely to be wide-ranging.

My biggest criticism of previous fund updates was that they rarely reflected the things that we as investors could see from a fund’s performance, for example where it had consistently underperformed, or where there had been issues with redemptions.

Harking back to Neil Woodford, my greatest gripe against Hargreaves was that it never acknowledged what everyone else could see was going on.

One year on and I think the company has taken a major stride forward. Very quietly it has unveiled the new update sheets which, in as plain-talking a manner as possible, lay out what is going on under the bonnet of a fund.

In one of the examples already published there is highlighting of discrete performance that showed up losses, as well as a frank diagnosis that even conservative funds can lose money.

There is even remarkable honesty that the fund has not outperformed its benchmark since launch, and explains why.

That is all commendable. Every adviser knows that communicating with clients is at the heart of relationship building, and this from Hargreaves is a major stride forward in regaining confidence of customers.

Part of this is attacking head on what is right before a customer’s own eyes. What we have not seen yet is the analysis of a fund it does not like – this is where the challenge lies.

Improving investing

A year ago I had just completed my pilgrimage to witness the Holy Grail for investors: the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, US.

I was up at 5am to see the queues snaking round the block and out of sight, and trawled the stalls to see those snapping up products at the conference centre.