Turmoil in the European markets failed to cast shadows on a bright and sunny day in Washington, DC where the fund industry's leadership gathered Wednesday afternoon to kick off the annual ICI General Membership Meeting. Mark Fetting, chairman of this year's conference and CEO of Legg Mason, tried to set the sunny tone with his opening remarks while ICI President Paul Schott Stevens underscored the ICI's and celebrated the fiftieth edition of the ICI Fact Book.
ICI President Paul Schott Stevens followed those remarks with classical allusions and a restatement of the mutual fund industry's role as a fiduciary to its customers [See Stevens' prepared remarks
]. Fiducia, he noted as part of a lengthy discourse on the term, has its roots in Roman law and has the same root as fidelity (think Marines and not Boston to follow Stevens' path).
All in all, those who lived through meetings a decade ago likely felt a comfortable familiarity with Stevens' call to duty to the industry. The pair's remarks preceded keynote appearances by former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and former U.S. Senator Trent Lott.
Fetting confirmed that not only are funds continuing to gain assets, but that flows are starting to shift from fixed income investments that have sustained sales to equities [See Fetting's full remarks
]. He also pointed to ICI research that shows retirement plan investors -- now a core constituency among fund shareholders -- have remained true to their investments through the downturn and that accounts are returning to the peak levels.
"These findings came as quite a surprise to the press. They were met with great interest on Capital Hill as well," said Stevens of the ICI research on the stick-to-it-ness of retirement investors during the past two years.
Both speakers stressed that mutual fund firms have remained focused on the their services and duties to shareholders, a point that was elaborated on by Fetting in his remarks.
"At Legg Mason, we have a commitment to 'no chalk on our shoes,'" said Fetting. He explained that "Chip Mason [former Legg Mason CEO] made it clear that he wants to see no chalk on our shoes.
"We think about it like a football field, with the boundaries laid out with lines of chalk. A player can stick to the field, clearly playing in bounds, or he can crowd the line, cutting close to the edge. If he’s on the line, he’s going to get chalk on his shoes," said Fetting.
"Don't step over or even on the boundary lines,: he warned.
As Stevens picked up on that fiduciary theme; he also educated his audience on the origins of the term and its long-term importance through history.
His thoughts on fiduciary issues call up "the image in Diogenis wandering up and down wall Street asking each person he meets: are you a fiduciary." Most are scrambling to escape the light of that lantern, said Stevens. Some even call fiduciary the "f word", he added.
"Mutual funds are a fiduciary," stated Stevens. He added that "duty is doing what we would say we do."
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