Wednesday 1 March 2006

Value for money in the City

Last May I attended a splendidly entertaining talk by my friend and client Lord Kirkham, founder and chairman of DFS, at the North East Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

In case you think that this is a none-too-subtle advert for the speechwriting service, let me say straight away that his words were all his own. Though now we’re on the subject I do write speeches at remarkably reasonable rates, and I can guarantee you’ll get at least one big laugh. Probably when I’m on the phone pleading with you to pay my bill.

Anyway, for the benefit of those of you who weren’t there, his Lordship made some remarkably forthright comments about the quality and value offered by City advisers. These were reinforced with a sprinkling of the Anglo-Saxon words which are one of his trademarks.

Some people told me afterwards that they thought it was all a bit strong. Though funnily enough, as time goes by and more of the attendees gain experience of trying to float or sell their companies, they seem to conclude that his remarks were actually nothing like strong enough.

There is a huge gulf now between those of us who live in what might be called the real world, and those bankers and brokers who say airily, ‘Oh, it’s only another couple of million’ in the way that the rest of us might refer to the price of a newspaper.

Ironically, the fat cats who run British companies and public sector bodies are the ones who attract most opprobrium, because their salaries and benefits are so well publicised. Yet at least the organisations they run usually provide some tangible and / or useful product or service.

City advisers, by contrast, inhabit a private world where seven-figure bonuses are ‘earned’ for what many of us regard as shuffling paper. Which would be bad enough without the evidence that most of the deals they come up with actually destroy shareholder value.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a free-marketeer, a libertarian and a big fan of certain advisers being overpaid. I think people should be allowed to make money any way they like, so long as it’s within the law.

But I hope I won’t be accused of talking my own book again when I say that it’s high time some of our leading financial advisers started paying a bit more attention to their own PR.

Keith Hann is an outspoken and therefore underworked PR consultant.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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