Book extract: Penny for her thoughts

My job, as a specialist salesperson, was to ring up fund managers (the clients with the pools of money) and alert them to the latest bons mots falling from the pens of my two bosses. I was a hybrid of telesales team member and analyst.

I needed to impress on these fund managers how terribly clever my bosses were, how well they knew their sector, how insightful their views were – indeed, how indispensable their services were if the fund manager was to make an informed decision about which shares to buy or sell.

Active fund management, where the fund manager actively takes investment decisions rather than letting a computer allocate money between shares, has quarterly milestone measurements. At the end of each quarter the fund’s performance is measured against whatever benchmark they are using. Thus the purpose of my telephone calls to clients was to provide information that would enable them to outperform the market.

Some 80% of money under management is probably in the hands of 20% of a stockbroker’s clients, and those 20% need first-class servicing and careful handling. In our case, they would normally receive direct personal phone calls from the

Arrogant Twosome, and wouldn’t deign to talk to me. But fund managers of that size usually have their own research departments, and while my bosses spoke to the fund managers themselves, I would be developing a relationship with the analyst on the ‘buy’ side (as clients managing pools of money are typically known).

Every month, with the approval of my bosses, I would be issued with a list of fund management clients that had to be called and a recommendation as to the frequency with which I should be calling them. I had to make a record of these calls and every month I had to hand it in, like a time sheet.

If I hadn’t called a client as frequently as I should, an explanation would be required. It was never good enough to say, ‘He’s not interested in hearing from us, he doesn’t rate either of the Arrogant Twosome and he has no time for what they’ve got to say.’ I was expected to return to the fray the following month and try again.

I vividly remember one particular client, working at County NatWest Investment Management (which no longer exists as such). Supposedly a target of the elder of the Arrogant Twosome, he never came to company presentations, never gave us good marks on any measurement criteria, and certainly never directed any commission in our direction.

Every month I would go through the ritual of leaving a message on his answerphone, and every month he would fail to return it. If I’d had email in those days, I could have added to my bombardment by sending him witty comments through cyberspace. I doubt he would have taken much notice of those either.

One day I did actually get through to him; the conversation went something like this:

‘Hello, it’s Mrs Moneypenny from Eurobank.’


‘I just wondered if you would be interested in hearing my bosses’ views on XYZ plc.’

‘No.’ (Very loquacious, this client.)

‘Why not?’

‘Because as far as I’m concerned you’ve got nothing interesting to say.’

Rejection is never easy, from a lover or a client. I’m not sure what my response should have been to this, but after months of having come up against a brick wall I finally lost my temper. So the conversation continued:

‘How do you know I’ve nothing to say and no value to add if you won’t even listen to me in the first place? I think it’s absolutely outrageous that you can make a pronouncement like that on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

If you had any decency at all you would at least agree to meet me for lunch to see whether you find any sense at all in our investment views. At least if you did that, and then told me I had nothing useful to say and no value to add, I would assume you had done it on the basis of having reviewed the evidence!’

I held my breath, knowing I had overstepped the mark and wondering how on earth I was going to explain this away when yet another month went past without any communication with this man. I didn’t see how any of what I had just said was in any way going to address the poor image he clearly already had of us. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when he responded: ‘Yes, OK, that seems like a reasonable suggestion. How about lunch in the tapas bar in Leadenhall Market next Thursday?’

Thus started a long and commercially successful relationship between me and the bolshy client at County Natwest. He became such a wonderful client that I even flew back from Hong Kong in 1995 to take him to a big industry function, the annual fund management beanfeast at the Grosvenor House known as the Analysts’ Dinner.

Trading floors are not complicated places, and surviving on one is really not that hard. You have to learn to have no pride of authorship, to give due deference to the egos around you, and to realise you are all there for one main purpose – to help your clients make money. You should have tenacity, the capacity to work long hours and the ability to place no limits on how far you will sink to please your employers or your clients.

Quite simple, really.

‘It’s easy to succeed in this game,’ MSAG once told me. ‘You just have to use the chocolate knickers treatment where you can. It almost unfailingly works with male clients.’ What, I asked, was the chocolate knickers treatment?

‘It’s quite simple,’ she said in a very matter-of-fact voice. ‘You just have to look at every client as though they are wearing chocolate knickers that you would like to lick off.’

  • This is an edited extract of Mrs Moneypenny: Survival in the City. We are offering readers the chance to buy the book for a discounted price of £10.99 incl. p&p, phone 01476 541001 and quote Accountancy Age.

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