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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Confusion Between the Two Oppenheimers

News summary by MFWire's editors

Apologies for belaboring what should be painfully obvious, but I think it needs to be said (via bullhorn if necessary) that Oppenheimer & Co., and Oppenheimer Funds are not the same company. The fact that most newspapers do precious little to make this clear must be killing, just killing, executives at OpFunds and majority-owner Mass Mutual

Case in point, the recent coverage of the SEC barring of Brian Williamson, the former employee of Oppenheimer & Co. who, among other things, managed Oppenheimer Global Resource Private Equity Fund I, L.P. , a fund of private funds.

Many news outlets covered it (we did not as we only cover '40 Act products), and some weren't the sticklers they should have been in their headlines, yada yada.

I'll give you two cases in point.

Case one, the BusinessWeek story Ex-Oppenheimer Fund Manager Barred by SEC Over Valuations.

Case two, the InvestmentNews story SEC bars former Oppenheimer & Co. fund manager. (Although to be fair, this story did include the tease "Agency alleged that he misrepresented the value of a private-equity fund of funds".)

Am I being an annoying geek on this subject? Well, that is to be expected. However, I can't stress enough the obvious. The retail mutual fund industry is, by necessity, ferociously brand conscious and any stories about an SEC action are going to make people nervous. Plenty nervous in fact. And OpFunds just happens to be devoting a lot of money, resources and brain power to a new ad campaign to reach out to consumers and advisors.

And let's face it, any headline that tosses together the words "Oppenheimer" and "fund" or "funds" or "fund manager," without clearly articulating the fact that they are two separate firms and have been so for years, is unfairly giving a lot of people ulcers. OpFunds and MassMutual execs must be bringing in antacid by the truckload.

And it's not that hard. Look at this early story by ThinkAdvisor on the case. The third paragraph of the article is this: "Oppenheimer & Co. is not affiliated with OppenheimerFunds." All you need is seven words (Yes. I'm counting the "Co.") and you're golden.

Other publications, that have more of a general business focus, also put in some effort to communicate the difference. Take a look at the New York Times DealBook article as well as the Wall Street Journal. To be truthful, they could have done more to make it clear, but they tried.

Make no mistake, none of the articles noted in this story were at all inaccurate. Granularly, they were on the money. All were at least respectably written, some written pretty damned well.

But not clarifying such simple points can create a lot of problems for the brands in question. Consider the importance of InvestmentNews. That Crain publication is one of the most influential and authoritative pubs when it comes to communicating to advisors, perhaps the premier target audience for retail fund firms. Advisors make decisions, in part, from what they read from this publication. The standard for expertise and clarification for this publication, perhaps, has to be among the highest.

If you want to get insight into the SEC case against Williamson from the horse's mouth, here is the SEC press release about the deal and the the full SEC Order.

Sometimes the obvious matters. 

Edited by: Tommy Fernandez


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