Question: What do you get if you cross a wannabe salesman with a wannabe fund manager?
Answer: A 'product ambassador'.
Also known as product specialists, product engineers and client portfolio managers, these are classic 'in-between' roles, filling a gap that few people even really knew existed until a few years ago. It's a bull-market phenomenon that has somehow stuck with us and, like the camera on your cell phone, nobody admits to needing or liking it but we probably now cannot live without it.
And so this week I have the pleasure of introducing our visiting Equity Sector Product Ambassador to our clients and prospects. He's here to pump (sorry, promote) Integrity's sexy new Global Mid-Cap Pharmaceuticals strategy, and he comes very highly recommended from London. Not only that, but we have been offered double commission points this quarter on all the active global-sector strategy funds we can sell.
The product is good. The ambassador seems polished. I have been successful in setting up plenty of meetings around town and even in Macau.
You'd think I'd jump for joy with this extra sales ammo. Sure I'm jumping... off a bridge.
First are the looks of disbelief, followed by the sniggers, when I, William T Fitzgerald, walk into the room and introduce my colleague, Gerald Fitzwilliam. Worse is when the biggest institutional CIO in the Pearl River Delta, on whom I've spent oodles wining and dining, keeps calling me Gerry.
But hey, I'm a professional. I can handle it. Strike two for ol' Gerald is that I've still to meet a product ambassador who really gets it. At least the fund managers have an excuse for not realising the importance of a strong sales effort, as they are so busy re-taking CFA Level 2 and/or telling us how smart they are.
But the ambassadors should know better: selling is not something that happens, it's something you have to do. Especially for this kind of garbage, for which there are patently no natural buyers. Global mid-cap pharma? You need investors to sample some pharma of their own before they should want to buy this stuff, and want to buy it from us.
So far, all of our meetings have followed the same pattern.
First 5 minutes: Fitzes
Introductions and obligatory jokes about our astoundingly funny names.
Next 5 minutes: Whoop-dee-do
Reminder of Integrity's background as investment innovator. We were the first shop to launch an index-tracking 130/30 fund and also founded the hugely potentialled Contrarian Growth strategy. Now it's esoteric sector gimmicks, seeded by gullible Swiss private banks. We are truly the architects of hope, and I take my hat off to my European colleagues for pulling off this master stroke. I am not so sure, however, that the somewhat savvier Asians will bite.
Next 40 minutes: Mr Ambassador
Gerald goes through his PowerPoint of impressive-looking charts, graphics and tables, all of which confirm that mid-cap pharmaceuticals is the space to be in.
You don't want the large-cap ones, because they are too diverse and the impact of any breakthrough will be diluted. In addition, these are far more likely to be damaged by news -- imagine BP killing people instead of just pelicans and turtles.
You don't want the small-caps, as these are too risky and illiquid, not to mention the paltry R&D expenditure. Nope, it's all about the mid-caps: the cockpit of creation for curing cancer, giving women their Viagra and replacing sunscreen with a pill. Just buy a basket of decent mid-caps and wait for those FDA approvals to roll in.
By God, he puts the case across well, and I too can parrot it by lunchtime.
Next 5 minutes: Moving right along
Client getting bored, checking watch, flicking ahead in the presentation to see what's coming up, glancing at BlackBerry, making 'speed-it-up' gestures to me and so on.
Yes, dear diary, spot on: The genius ambassador has spent so long extolling the virtues of the asset class that there's no time left to answer crucial questions such as why use Integrity for this, why pay our 1.5% plus 15% of any outperformance of the esoteric MSCI benchmark? In short, why not just go to iClones and buy the ETF?
Final 5 minutes: Desperado
Yours truly covering up for the hapless in-betweener, having to cram an hour's selling into the last few remaining seconds. Even with my considerable powers of persuasion, charm and fee-discounting, it's an uphill battle at best.
Question: So why did the product ambassador cross the road?
Answer: To get the hell out of my sight.
William T Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in "RFP Diary". Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will's adventures continue fortnightly.