I want Pensions & Investments to sponsor a carnival.
Just imagine. We could have a dunking booth, where readers and sources could choose reporters they want to throw balls at in hopes of either dunking them in a tub of water, or at least hitting them, presumably by mistake. We could have a dart booth, where players throw darts at a board filled not with balloons, but with printed government regulations. Money managers, pension executives, consultants and other investment management professionals could aim for the regulations they most hate.
Plastics News, another newspaper owned by P&I's parent, Crain Communications Inc., recently sponsored a carnival at a big show put on by a plastics industry trade association. They probably had more conventional games like Skee-Ball. But whatever they had, I'm sure it was much more fun than the events we traditionally sponsor (cocktail parties, golf outings and the like).
So how come Plastics News does fun stuff and we don't? Our publisher — my boss — might say it's because our readers are too sophisticated for such sophomoric pursuits.
The real reason is the folks in the industry we cover don't have meetings and conventions big enough to justify putting on a carnival. The plastics industry event with the newspaper-sponsored carnival had 65,000 attendees and took up all of Chicago's massive McCormick Place. There's probably never been a pension or investment management confab at McCormick Place because events in the money management industry attract only a fraction of that number.
Which leads me to the point of this column, Yes, I really want a P&I carnival, but I think the issue here is that the investment management industry doesn't have the sense of community common to many other industries.
The issue came up the other day — before I found out about the Plastics News carnival, I might add — in an internal meeting about our website, pionline.com. I was asked: Would a blog be something our online readers would flock to? I was skeptical. I pointed out the investment management industry doesn't feel like a community, and the blogs I have read have a community feel to them, or at least an "us-vs.-them" mentality.
There is no big association of money managers, pension executives, consultants and others in the business. There is no huge umbrella group that embraces a bunch of smaller, specialized associations. There is no unified lobbying group (or trade association, to use a more politically correct term) that covers all parts of the pension and investing arena, although there are groups lobbying on behalf of subuniverses, such as corporate plan sponsors or the mutual fund business.
Not even small sectors of the business seem to have any sense of community. I'm told the hedge fund industry in Connecticut, for example, has more than one association representing it.
Granted, there have been some small signs of groups with shared interests joining forces. Two associations for consultants merged a while back, and two organizations for defined contribution service providers combined relatively recently.
Although I'm sure you can tell where this is headed, let me spell it out: I propose someone take up this cause. The first step probably is to identify all of the groups connected to the business of pension and investment management. The second is to interview members and administrators of these groups to find out what their biggest hot-button issues are and whether (or, I hope, how) an umbrella organization might serve their purposes and advance their causes. Third, I guess, would be to recruit people from each of the groups to form a steering committee that would be charged with creating this megagroup.
I'd volunteer, but I'm going to be busy putting together the P&I carnival. Just let me know when and where our first gig will be.