November 24, 2003
After interviewing the CEO of a Geneva-based fund company at their Park Avenue headquarters some years ago, I couldn't help but notice their private stretch limousine parked out front. The vanity plates tipped it off. The shareholders sure would love to know about that one, I thought at the time.
What's fueling the investigations into mutual fund trading and compensation practices, which Spitzer pretty much single-handedly spearheaded, is not just the CEOs he's turned into the Kozlowskis and the Grassos of our industry.
Sure, it didn't hurt that Lasser walked away with a $163 million pay package with a possible $48 million golden parachute, to boot. Or that Morgan Stanley brokers were goaded into selling house funds with such excesses as golf in the tropics, racecar driving lessons and tickets to see Britney Spears. The daily duelings between federal, state and regulatory lawmakers, with a few presidential candidates thrown in, haven't hurt, either. Not to mention the flight of tens of billions of pension dollars from those fund complexes that have been tainted.
No, what's really packed the fund scandal a punch is the people. The investors. Portfolio managers, brokers and hedge funds messing with the money people have entrusted to our industry -- that's just plain wrong.
As the fund scandal advances beyond the charges, eventual fines and restitution, to new laws and regulation, investors will unite like they never have before.
As investor watchdog Roy Weitz and I wrote in the special 10th anniversary, year-end edition of Mutual Fund Market News a year ago (see "Scandal? What Scandal?," MFMN 12/23/02): "Fund firms, you may have avoided the embarrassments that have befallen so many leading American corporations and financial titans during the past year, but investors are beginning to realize that, as the stewards of their vast retirement dreams, you are worth careful watching.
"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
At this point, the consequences of our industry doing nothing, or not doing enough, is what we should fear now.
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