James Coney  

Fund managers must play their part in boosting transparency

James Coney

James Coney

First Gamestop, then Blackberry. On Monday, it was silver. What will be the next stock or asset to be targeted by the Wall Street revolutionaries? Currencies?

Actually, that is unlikely. With around £6.6tn traded daily in global foreign exchange markets, it seems highly unlikely that even the most co-ordinated attack on the market could yield enough capital to get a result.

We could debate the rights and wrongs of what the Wall Street activists on Reddit are doing forever, and certainly I think most in financial services feel that this will end up with many ordinary savers getting their fingers burned. (Actually, I am hoping the story takes a new twist and it turns out these anonymous traders are actually rival hedge funds!)

It is a sideshow, though, for the real issue at heart here, which is activism and accountability.

The Reddit traders may well be picking the wrong targets, and their actions may be reducing the wealth of one group, only to make a different one far richer.

That matters not, because this is all about feeling enfranchised for a generation that believes it has no say over the way businesses are run.

We are supposedly at the start of a golden age of ethical investing, with more people than ever interested in funds that make a difference to the planet and society.

Some people still do just want profit without the moral judgement, but there are growing numbers that demand companies show corporate responsibility.

An understanding of what environmental, social and governance investing means – that it is not just backing wind turbines and vegan sausages, and more about sustainability and morality – is growing all the time.

And the nuance goes further. Most sensible investors can stomach well-remunerated executives as long as it is matched by good performance and incentives that do not run out of control.

The problem is that it is difficult to have an intelligent debate about accountability and activism when the vast majority of investors feel so detached from the companies they have a stake in, whether directly or through a collective investment scheme.

To blame for this is the legacy of fund sales, which has largely removed asset managers from their end customers; and the development of technology, which has allowed people to invest quickly and cheaply through investment platforms.

This disconnection means that asset managers feel no compulsion to publish how they voted on the stocks they hold.

Have you ever tried telling a fund manager how you would like them to vote with your units? Good luck finding an email address.

In fact, good luck finding a full list of holdings. Advisers, I'm afraid, are not much better; often never checking in with how exactly an ESG fund is performing in terms of its philosophy, not just its returns.