The stories about Woodford are almost as plentiful as those about Brexit.
We all pay service to the principle that ‘past performance is not a guide to future performance’. Woodford Investment Management being a case in point.
Two things come to mind. How to showcase expertise. How to earn trust.
Past performance has always been a mainstay of promotional direction. Understandably so. Experience and success are important.
Would you have someone do building work on your house who could not provide some sense of past performance?
Equally though, endorsements from friends (let’s call them third parties) carry more weight than, say, a well produced flyer from the builder in question. These third-party endorsements are steeped in past performance.
If your new roof collapses into your morning tea, it is fair to say that you would likely direct some ire at the endorsement. Though ultimately the responsibility rests with you for making the choice.
Nevertheless, when that third-party - whose very existence is there to advise, guide and inform the less experienced - consistently highlights a particular product, one could be forgiven for abrogating a certain level of responsibility.
When such a product comes a cropper, one could be forgiven for feeling mightily aggrieved.
I don’t think it is fair to say that Woodford has deliberately shafted investors. Yes, he went from being not the most approachable when in the service of Invesco to the other extreme when he set up WIM. He also went from being a fund manager, with significant marketing and operational support, to being a business manager.
It’s fair to say hubris joined the executive team at camp WIM.
This sorry debacle does serve to remind us is that trust is a fragile thing.
To earn it takes time, effort and proof. To lose it takes no time, some effort and little proof. What’s left? Perhaps a little faith, which is only the echo of trust.
Loss of trust is contagious. WIM’s tanks are on fumes. Advisers who recommended him are leaking. More broadly, the industry has also relinquished.
Paying lip service to how important clients are is easy. Proving this is the case is less so.
To the cynic, corporate statements to this effect - like this in one annual report: "we work tirelessly on delivering exceptional service to our clients" - come across as disingenuous and patronising.
That may be unfair.
I think most managers do feel responsible for their clients’ money.
On my first week working at a large asset manager, I went to an internal meeting with a fund manager who was responsible a not insignificant £3-4bn in European equities.
Whilst he was a cantankersaurus much of the time, he was very adamant in recognising that the underlying investors had placed their trust in him (either directly or via a pension scheme).
I felt it was genuine. There were no external people to show off to after all. Yet he was vehement in acknowledging that it was "Mr or Ms Smith’s" savings that were at stake, not some faceless institution’s bottomless wallet.
I think that this attitude is more the rule than the exception in our industry. Clients just aren’t inclined to believe that straight off.
Woodford-gate has reinforced in us that anyone managing money now needs to do more to demonstrate their accountability to ensure that Mr and Ms Smith understand, engage and trust.
We all remember maths teachers urging us to ‘show your workings’. Now’s the time to heed that important lesson.
We have the tools and technologies to show personality, to be frank, to be open, to communicate and connect.
Let’s do it.
Neil Woodford has apologised to his investors and urged them to keep faith with him while his flagship fund remains suspended to withdrawals.