He’s such a card, that Vince Cable. While Andrew Tyrie was gently barbequeing another batch of bankers, and yet more Libor financial depravity was being revealed, up he pops to revive the idea of giving us the shares in Royal Bank of Scotland that we already own. If Mr Cable did jokes, this would rank as one of his better ones. Look, he might say, these institutions are so amoral that we’re going to make you, dear voters, the owners!

There are, rather conveniently, 100 RBS ordinary shares per head of Britain’s 60m population, which would make a holding  worth about £340 today. Even if the shares were given away, this is too little to grow into anything useful, while the administration of the register scarcely bears thinking about. Besides, who wants a sliver of an organisation that has behaved this badly?

Spreading the shares like an oil slick across the nation would lead to the sort of democracy we have in the European Union, where voting power is so diffuse that the executives can ignore it. Of course RBS is hardly alone on the naughty step. We now expect banks to behave badly, whether in selling us dud insurance, pushing incomprehensible derivatives or fiddling the sums on Libor.

These newly-discovered sins appear to have drawn savers’ attention to the old one, of appalling fund management. Last week also revealed the rapid growth at  Hargreaves Lansdown, an investment broker which is taking in investors who either can’t or won’t pay the fees the banks charge to (mis)manage their assets.

Hargreaves has spotted that customers like honesty, with clever people answering the phones, rather than some distant call-centre muppet. Its £30 billion under administration, and growing fast, suggests that increasing numbers have more trust in their broker than in their bank. Considering what we now know about how they really behave, perhaps it’s not that surprising.

Chilly in shorts

The trustees of the splendidly-named Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 572 Pension Fund of Nashville, Tennessee are mad as hell. They think that BlackRock, the manager of an exchange traded fund they’re invested in, has been pocketing the fees for lending stock to short sellers. Now they have gone to court, claiming that the BlackRockers “systematically violated their fiduciary duties.”

Litigation is the American way, of course, and BlackRock not only deny the charges vigorously but point out that the revenue from stock lending has helped deliver decent returns. The argument appears to be about whether the plumbers have had a fair cut of the fees.

Whatever the merits of the case, it promises to shine a light into a murky corner. Short sellers are always gloomy, and vilified when they are not ignored. After several futile efforts to ban them in Europe, new rules to make stock lending less lucrative come into force later this month.

It’s understandable that some investors dislike the idea of their fund manager lending stock so someone else can give the price a good thumping. In theory, it should only a passing difference, since the short seller must eventually buy the stock back, which should push the price up again. In practice, the bear raiders can do lasting damage to a share rating. Nevertheless, as the carrion crows of the financial ecosystem, they have their place, and if the plumbers don’t like crows, they can choose an ETF which promises not to feed them.

What exactly do you do?

Just what you’ve always wanted: a share in a specialist provider of online customer acquisition solutions, through the delivery of optimised paid search, integrated websites and call centre support. A product of our rapidly-changing world, Digital Globe Services offers all this and its shares, coming to AIM later this month. All the way from Colorado, DGS wants a higher profile for its nascent business here, and on NASDAQ it would be so small as to be invisible. It’s pretty small, even by Aim standards, offering a mix of old and new shares to raise about £9m. However, it’s growing fast, the management is not selling shares and, what’s more, it plans to pay dividends. But what does a specialist provider of online customer acquisition solutions actually do?

This is an updated version of my FT column

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/28da887a-7203-11e2-886e-00144feab49a.html#axzz2Kb0eIVnV

 

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