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Who can you trust?  Is your pension fund “built on a lie”?

Your pension pot may well be your biggest investment, second only to your home.  Maybe you have an investment ISA, too.

You’re open to advice on investing, but good advice isn’t free, and chances are you don’t have a financial adviser.

Perhaps you do your own research.  Trawling comparison tables of thousands of funds, aware that past performance is no guarantee but not sure how to factor in other statistics such as Alpha, Beta And Sharpe.  Or maybe you just want somewhere relatively safe for your money to grow year after year.

One particular fund manager – Neil Woodford – is promoted to you through advertising around those comparison tables and frequent name-drops in news articles.  He looks reliable, solid, middle-aged and carries himself with confidence.  Someone who’d stand his round down the pub.  More importantly he’s been through a couple of rough economic cycles with his reputation as a good stockpicker intact.  The performance figures of his funds speak for themselves.  He works for a fund management company whose own symbol is that of mountain-like solidity and endurance.  He’s in the best buy lists of independent fund information companies.  So, why not invest in one of his funds?

Owen Walker’s book Built on a Lie: The Rise and Fall of Neil Woodford and the Fate of Middle England’s Money is a revelation as to the events that wrote many thousands of small investors unwillingly into a shocking chapter of UK financial history.

If you think you know what transpired, think again.  Owen Walker’s detailed yet accessibly-written investigation lays bare a staggering series of actions and inactions.

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If we are to take the book at its word, few characters come out of the saga untarnished.  Aside from Woodford and his colleagues the book focuses on both the financial regulator, which at times seems toothless, and companies producing best-buy lists, which continued to implicitly ‘recommend’ Woodford’s funds long past the time that the companies themselves knew the funds to be faltering.

This is not a case of one man’s single-mindedness or hubris in sticking with his investment instincts.  Instincts that only with hindsight appear unwise.  This is not just a run of bad form.

Though arguably Built On A Lie would benefit from a thorough appendix of references to help raise it to Bob Woodward levels of penetrating exposé, the writing is paced well and the author does a good job of explaining the more technical aspects of fund management and administration.

Required reading for those skeptical about the cult of star managers, and past and prospective Woodford investors.  For the rest of us the book may help us see funds in a new light and give us a few questions to ask of the next financial adviser we meet.

Verdict: Safe as houses.

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Please note this article does not constitute investment advice. Investors are encouraged to do their own research beforehand or consult a professional advisor.

Graeme Andrew

Graeme Andrew

Graeme is Head of Technology at the Armchair Trader. He has worked in online financial investment publishing since 2000 as a website developer, advertising operations manager, data scientist and all-round go-to guy for online technical solutions.

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