Biased Advice at the Banks Replaced With Bad Advice

In the last year, the investment advisers at the banks have become the hottest commodity in the capital market.

For years and decades nobody took them seriously: their job was to make money for the bank and shut up. Now these erstwhile-despised beings find themselves being begged to behave by the banks, and wooed by investment firms plugging provident and mutual funds. It's a whole new world.

Wearing one hat, the banks used to manage provident and mutual funds, and wearing another hat, they used to market units in its own provident and mutual funds (banks were supposed to market everybody's provident and mutual funds, not only their own, but they didn't exactly comply with that requirement).

The result was that even the banks' provident and mutual funds that did really badly had money pouring in for investment, from the banks' clients.

But then the state moseyed along and forced the banks to sell their provident and mutual funds under the Bachar reform. No longer owning them, the banks no longer had a vested interest in the funds' welfare.

The banks were forced to provide objective advice and no longer had a reason not to. And thus the power passed from the bank managers to the investment advisers, who have become the new powers in the capital market. They can make or break any mutual fund.

The golem investment advisers have risen up against their makers, namely the bank managers. Change has been in the air for a year, when Bank Hapoalim sold its mutual funds and - investment advisers at the bank's branches started advising customers to get out of them.

But when the bank's advises started to urge investors to put their money elsewhere, the sale of the mutual funds hadn't been closed yet. Bank Hapoalim was terrified that the buyer would panic at the mushrooming withdrawals and cancel the deal.

So the bank disseminated instructions, convened its investment advisers and pressed.

But the investment advisers were clammy to the beseeching. Why should they heed the Hapoalim management, when they're being wooed and cooed at by the investment banks, which hope these investment advisers will plug their funds?

Has the change achieved anything? Yes, and no.

Yes: the provident and mutual funds no longer belong to the banks and have to compete to survive. When there is competition, the consumer benefits.

But it took little time for the banks to recover from losing their provident and mutual funds and find alternative sources of income.

Also, they remain biased. They do get distribution fees for selling units in any provident and mutual funds, but in parallel they're selling structured deposits, deposits and savings accounts, on which they cut a coupon.

Worst of all is that once advice at the banks had been biased, but today it's just bad.

The banks have devoted quite a bit of resources to their investment management. They hired new blood and sent them for more training. But the result is not good, at least it is not yet.

Otherwise it's impossible to understand why a handful of mutual funds that managed to build a strong brand name are mushrooming in size, while hundreds of other mutual funds that are no less successful are in protracted clinical death. It seems that the new advisers at the banks are being strongly influenced by ads, and that they're looking at the funds' short-term performance, and that's that.