How I Joined the Small Investors' Army on a Weekend of Discovery; Personal Finance Editor Jeff Prestridge Travels to Dundee to See How Savers Can Quiz the Bosses of a ?1.7 Billion Fund
Prestridge, Jeff, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)
Byline: JEFF PRESTRIDGE
THE once-thriving jute industry, comic hero Desperate Dan and Captain Scott's ship Discovery mark the history of Dundee.
Discovery, which took Scott to the Antarctic in 1901, was built in the city and is now a tourist attraction.
An 8ft statue of Desperate Dan towers over visitors, reminding them that they are on the doorstep of D. C.
Thomson, publisher of the legendary Beano and Dandy comics.
But visitors dwarfed by the statue might not know that there is another giant in town ? Dundee is also home to the ?1.7 billion Alliance Trust, which has been investing and managing clients' money in world stock markets since 1888.
It was in the quayside Discovery Centre that I joined investors at the trust's annual general meeting.
The AGM in the Robert Falcon Scott Suite attracted more than 100 visitors keen to hear what Alliance Trust had to say.
They represented 50,000 private investors, most of whom save through the trust's savings scheme.
Apart from a free lunch, they also relished the opportunity to quiz the Alliance's board and its fund managers about the trust's performance.
Investment trusts are required by law to hold AGMs.
Though much time is spent on formal business such as reappointing directors and auditors, AGMs give investors the chance to have their say and meet the highly paid experts who look after their money.
AS Annabel Brodie Smith of the Association of Investment Trust Companies says: 'There is nothing more reassuring for an investor than to see the whites of a fund manager's eyes.' Others in the collective investments business do not offer clients this eyeball-to-eyeball opportunity.
For example, unit trusts do not hold annual meetings, though occasionally they may run roadshows where investors can meet fund managers.
Fidelity Investments is a pastmaster at this.
They have to convene meetings only if they wish to change the investment objectives of a fund, and these are usually poorly attended.
In contrast, some big investment trusts go out of their way to encourage investors to attend AGMs. The ?1.6 billion Witan fund last month held its AGM at the Royal Horticultural Society, of Chelsea Flower Show fame, in London, and more than 400 attended.
Fleming American's AGM was held in more modest surroundings ? the company's offices in central London.
But it was a lively affair.
Simon Crinage, vice president in charge of specialist pooled funds at JP Morgan Fleming, says: 'There were a lot of sophisticated investors who wanted answers to key questions such as the outlook for the American economy and the impact of the Enron debacle on corporate America. …