“We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- that all are created equal;
- that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
- that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Interviewed in The Times on Saturday in the wake of the local elections, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the message is that people want the centre, not the extremes. Theresa May simply repeats her mantra that the electorate’s message is to deliver Brexit – that’s it. We speak with crosses on the ballot paper: do they alone have the right to interpret the message?
I have observed for many years that arrogance is the Achilles’ heel of the politician, and presumptive statements such as these simply prove the point. Listening, not pronouncing, is the route to understanding.
This kind of ‘We know best’ attitude is not, however, restricted to those in the corridors of political power. It also extends to business, and particularly the world of financial services. So in this commentary we look at how sharing experience through building relationships, in that field too, has to be the way forward.
My passion for individual share ownership right across society goes back over forty years, starting well before the Thatcher revolution. When I first came to work in the City of London in 1976, I immediately joined the Wider Share Ownership Council, a think-tank exploring how to create a more egalitarian and participative form of capitalism.
In the years that followed, when privatisations were being rolled out like buses, I argued strongly for custodian-based, rather than registrar-based, share ownership: so that the service provider’s first obligation would be to their personal customers and not to the share-issuing company (for whom personal shareholders were often more of a challenge than an opportunity). In 2006 we succeeded in changing company law to enfranchise share owners holding their shares through nominee custodians.
When Barclays acquired the firm I worked for (the market-maker Wedd Durlacher, Mordaunt) I put forward the proposal for, and then established, Barclayshare - one of the first genuinely retail stockbroking firms. Since 1991, I have established, run and now chair The Share Centre, which has been voted first for customer experience for each of the past five years, and which is now on the threshold of a transformative opportunity to explode the market for individual share ownership.
Listeners and readers will know of my continuing passion for egalitarian capitalism, not only across society but also across generations. It delivers not only the economic freedom that comes from having a personal reserve of savings and investment, but also a society at ease with itself: as owners, employees and consumers combine ownership with a responsibility for all. Meanwhile the potential for egalitarian capitalism is, in my view, hugely enhanced by the emergence of the tech giants and their need to embrace their customers as part-owners, not least to temper a huge burden of approaching regulation.
Guiding The Share Centre is a set of values: respect for others, empowerment, enterprise, long-term stability and clarity – and, at the heart of these values, is a central purpose: ‘more people enjoying straightforward investing’. Meanwhile the double entendre of our name, ‘Share’, combines the link to equity ownership with a real generosity of spirit.
Enjoyment means participation: people don’t want to be treated as either voting fodder or financial service fodder. They want to enjoy participation, and they want those who serve them - both in politics and financial services - to allow that participation by listening, not by taking away the freedom to form their own opinions and make their own decisions. A few minutes watching the audience of BBC’s Question Time, or joining the deliberations of an investment club in a local pub, makes that clear.
Self-select investing, and taking control over your own finances, is a good proxy for the way forward for modern politics, because it allows relationships and experience to build. Of course the transaction can, and should, be commoditised so far as possible: the decimation of the High Street by online providers such as Amazon shows us that people want the simplest method possible to carry out their decisions.
If, however, financial service providers seek to isolate themselves from the personal customers they serve, they run the risk of making themselves increasingly irrelevant. This is where it’s also important to be clear about the separate roles of principal and agent: the former can afford to run their funds insulated from the individuals who may wish to buy them, but agency service must be based on relationships. Meanwhile those who seek to confuse those roles and internalise decision-making will find artificial intelligence and customer distrust increasingly driving their earnings capacity downwards.
In contrast, by allowing technology to support individual control and self-selection, the relationship with the personal investor is nurtured and developed in an association based on mutual respect. Fixed, as opposed to variable, fees ensure that that respect is maintained for all comers, no matter what their level of investment or previous experience. In a fixed fee economic environment, revenue growth depends on volume: and, because those who own are far more numerous than those who trade frequently, self-select investing runs hand-in-hand with egalitarian capitalism.
So strategic aims and commercial logic are therefore well linked in Share’s concept of ‘more people enjoying straightforward investing’; but first and foremost these must be based on a respect for others so deep that they do not permit ivory towers to develop. For, as Thomas Jefferson said in the quote above: ‘All are created equal, and are endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
Would that our politicians also descend from their lofty perches of arrogance, and recognise that they too must share in the journey with us all.
Gavin Oldham OBE