City & Corporate: Hedge funds seek to polish image

AIMA to form promotional group in the wake of hedge fund threats to abandon the UK.

The body representing hedge fund companies is forming a 'working group' of PR practitioners to help improve perceptions of the industry.

The Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA) is understood to be forming the group to share knowledge and ideas on how best to influence key media and regulatory stakeholders.

AIMA was unable to confirm the formation of the group, but it is thought it will include key financial agency figures as well as in-house comms professionals.

Neil Mainland, MD of financial agency Mainland PR, said: 'The working group could be an interesting step, but PR people talking to each other in a vacuum can only go so far. The real crux is to get those in hedge fund boardrooms to recognise comms as an integral part of their businesses.'

The news emerges after some of the UK's biggest hedge funds threatened to quit the UK unless a draft European directive regulating the industry is rewritten.

Few market observers predicted a wholesale departure of London's hedge fund industry, despite reports some had already begun plans to move to non-EU state Switzerland.

But one comms chief closely involved with UK hedge funds said the statements were another blow to the wider perception of the industry. 'I don't think it's helpful to make those threats,' he said. 'The obvious response of anyone reading them will be to say "Well, sod off then".'

The source said rather than counterproductive threats, the industry could get more favourable media, regulatory and public treatment by demonstrating the 'significant' material value it provides.

The threats centre on industry dismay over the European Commission's draft directive on alternative investment fund managers. In particular, asset managers are worried by the scope of rules that place a limit on borrowing.

The FSA and Treasury have made sympathetic noises about the concerns. The Financial Times quoted one manager describing the EU rules as a 'French plot against London'.

Jamie Murray, account director for Broadgate Alternatives, said: 'This demonstrates again that the industry has not paid sufficient attention to PR and media strategy in the past and left itself wide open to be a scapegoat. That is finally begging to change.'

AIMA is thought to be preparing a far-reaching campaign directly targeting governments, MEPs and media channels across Europe.


- Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, Managing partner, Cubitt Consulting

I am sure a large number of asset managers are planning to leave the UK, but there is likely to be a reputational and business cost. Alternative asset class managers have a great deal of work to do to be able to take money off sophisticated individuals after Madoff, Stanford and other related affairs.

London, the US and the EU are seen as likely to be properly regulated regimes going forwards. Unless hedge funds move to a tiny handful of designated territories that operate at effective European standards, there is a high reputational risk.

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