Last week I decided to revisit a few mountains that I had not climbed in nearly 40 years. Mountains that made a huge impression on my teenage life as challenges that had to be overcome by any means possible. Mainly due to peer pressure in a school or cadet group but also due to my own ambition to get the job done and that sense of achievement. These mountains were Scafell Pike, Scafell and Helvellyn. The 3 tallest peaks in England and to be found in the beautiful Lake District, which must rank as one of the most amazingly beautiful places that I have ever been to. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for sheer classic english rural beauty, then you would be hard pushed to find a more stunning scenery. And before anyone starts on about the beauty of the Brecons, the Dales, the Peak District, the Highlands, then of course they are beautiful but different.
Whilst walking the various boulder strewn slopes and scary ridges I was constantly in wonder of the beauty as well as the drama of where I was. The same goes for our industry, well certainly the drama against the beauty! I also was amazed at the general kinship of fellow walkers and climbers that I met on my travels. Some were doing the same climbs over the various days and it was nice to renew the aquaintance on another slope a day later to discuss the challenges, the weather, the clothing some people wore on a mountain and other trivial aspects of life on a mountainside. And like the drama I reflected on the friendships in the industry that we all have, the mutual respect for our different roles be it front office or back office, client facing or hidden on a bank of researchers making sure the decisions made stand up to scrutiny. All roles play a part, much like a strong rugby team with different skills, sizes and speed.
But I also reflected on the changing landscape of these relationships as we move in the new dynamic, which some say reflects the development of AI, whilst I feel it reflects a deeper issue that as a society we are seeing more and more; that of superficiality. One of the latest Apple software upgrades tells you how much screen time you have had in the last 24 hours. Sadly it doesn’t tell you how many interactions you have had with a human being, 1-2-1 or with a group. These are invaluable times for all of us not just from a social point but also social skills, understanding people and yourself but also something that is very relevant in todays society, that of mental health.
Now I am no therapist or have any special knowledge but like many parents I became more and more worried about my children’s teenage years in particular when the Xbox took over their lives. Thankfully we managed to create an environment that allowed our children to get out more…..mainly sport! But in our industry we are seeing more and more investment decisions that never involve an interaction with Fund Managers but reams of paper reports, due diligence notes and behavioural aspects which prove one thing or another. Can this be a good thing? Time will tell and I am sure some investment guru will comment on this! However I am not too sure as business should be done on relationship as well. A sense of knowledge and comfort that comes from meeting the person or persons involved in the product you are buying. That’s not to say proper due diligence should not be done by the analysts/wealth managers looking at investing but let us not lose sight of the business relationships we should be developing. If we sit in isolation then we learn nothing but hard facts and not the softer elements that help us make the decisions. I have worked with many Fund Managers over the years who never meet the management of the companies they invest in or if they do they pay scant regard to the words. However they will wander around the factory and observe the production lines for example and talk to staff to get a feel for what is really going on. Hard facts are there for everyone but to help differentiate then the softer aspects help.
So let’s embrace human nature and talk more. Ironically as I sit here typing this I recall a recent conversation internally when I asked that people pick up the phone to each other rather than email as I was getting mullered with the cc on every email that was being sent across the offices. We seem to have moved to a culture where email is the preferred form of communication whereas most of us would rather have a call, a discussion or just an ear with someone for 5 minutes. It must be hell for some fund analysts who get hundreds of pitch emails each day. Sales guys, pick up the phone, you might just get through…….then again, you might just make a friend.