There are few more surefire ways to activate the déjà nerves in your brain than running into the person who replaced you at an old job.
That precisely was the situation I found myself in a month or two back, and the encounter validated both my disdain of the anything-for-a-buck attitude at my former firm and my decision to leave it behind.
When I ran into my replacement, Jill, she was bursting with news — an eagerness that might best be summed up as, “You're the only one who will understand…”
The job Jill inherited from me is a hybrid: part mutual fund analyst, part marketer (of wrap products to brokers). If this combination of responsibilities sounds like it invites conflicts of interest, you're in a good frame of mind to appreciate this story.
Jill was hired a week before I left my old firm, so I had some time to introduce her to the software we used and to the money managers in the system. During the training, I tried very hard not to speak badly of the firm, even though I had a low opinion of the ethics displayed by the people there, managers included. As it turns out, my discretion was unnecessary; Jill quickly reached the very same conclusions I had.
Tale of Whoa!
One of Jill's main tasks at the brokerage firm was to evaluate money managers. The story she was so eager to tell me was linked to new software the firm installed to rate the managers. The system was essentially a large database of information pertaining to the managers — returns, style analysis and a bunch of qualitative data.
Because the system did not automatically import data on the managers' returns, Jill input this information manually. Armed with such data, the software can compare the managers' returns against peer groups, and after she finished entering the firm's money manager information, Jill was asked to run a report illustrating just that. This was a straightforward task — until, that is, one of the managers threw a wrench in the works.
This manager of a large-cap value fund requested that Jill compare his returns to those of large-cap growth funds. It doesn't take a seasoned analyst to know there are few similarities to these two styles and that comparing and contrasting growth and value managers can be tremendously misleading.
It came as no surprise, then, when the firm's money manager outshined his alleged peers. Management reviewed the report and expressed satisfaction with the results, ignoring Jill's comments about the misleading nature of the comparison.
Appallingly, but unsurprisingly, management decided to publicize the results. It created promotional material, saying its product's Sharpe ratio ranked in the top 5 percent of its peer group, according to the software, and the salesforce was encouraged to highlight this fact in its meetings with clients.
There was no footnote or other detail that could help clients understand that the favorable peer group analysis was derived from an apples-to-oranges comparison. Jill was stunned that management was so comfortable with misrepresenting the performance of its money managers, particularly because the misrepresentation could potentially harm its own employees.
Likewise, she was surprised that no one at the firm raised any objections to this practice. It was clear that the distortion of facts in the name of image enhancement was a common practice. It was also clear to Jill that it was a practice she was uncomfortable being party to.
Towards the tail end of our conversation, she spoke the words I knew would be coming eventually: “Do you know anyone who's hiring?”
I nodded my head knowingly.
Writer's BIO: Kate Quaid is the pen name of a former mutual fund analyst.