Gina Miller took on the government on Brexit – and won. But while her unprecedented Article 50 challenge is what made her a household name in Britain, activism is not new to the businesswoman, who has been passionately fighting for more honesty and transparency in her own industry for years.
Here she talks exclusively to IFLR about the problems with the asset management sector, why women must look after themselves, and the case that changed her life forever.
You have been at the forefront of the fight for better transparency in the asset management sector. Why is that so important to you?
As a country, we have one of the lowest saving and investment rates in the western world. When you consider that no government, of whatever political persuasion, can fund the ageing of a population. In 2015 people of 65 years and over made up 17.8% of the population and this is set to be 25% by 2045; so, if there will not be enough money in the public purse, we must encourage more people to save and invest for their old age.
If prudent people then hand over their hard-earned money to an industry that is riddled with opacity, dubious practices and where high fees and low-performing products result in them earning fat profits, to the detriment of their customers, we have to have industry reform that makes it better fit for purpose.
When you consider that a report by the FSA (now the FCA) found that as much as 50% of fees were being hidden, and here we are 17 years later and nothing has changed in terms of granting customers the basic consumer rights of knowing exactly what they are buying and how much they are paying, my true and fair campaign was long overdue.
Do you feel that the FCA’s damning report of the sector will force change?
The 208-page FCA asset management market study published on 18th November 2016 was a comprehensive and informed analysis of the numerous dubious practices that have dogged the UK fund management industry for decades. Whilst the findings present a significant challenge to the asset management sector, firms cannot say it was unexpected as they have been walking a tightrope in terms of following their moral compass and the principle of putting customers first.
This first report in November 2016 was a strong identifier of the many ills operating in the investment industry, and served to vindicate the work we have been doing since 2009. However, the ‘final report’ published in June was a) not final and b) appeared to water down some of the remedies. I very much hope this not the case and that the FCA does not bow to the significant industry lobbying pressure.
An asset management industry that treats customers fairly means one that is competitive, transparent and devoid of conflicts of interest.
What prompted you to launch the UK’s first investment platform exclusively for women, MoneyShe?
Quite simply because I worry about women not looking after themselves. We all know about the wage gap, but not many people pay attention to the savings gap. Study after study has found that men have almost three times the pension savings of women, with the average male pension pot totalling around £74,000 compared with the female average of £25,000 and the gap is continuing to widen.
"Firms have been walking a tightrope in terms of following their moral compass and the principle of putting customers first"
In 2010, I started the No1 Ladies Investment Club and over the years I’ve learnt that women don’t feel confident around investment and pensions, often due to the language and ‘masculinity’ of the tone and culture of the industry. I want to knock down those barriers and make investing and saving more understandable, approachable and attractive.
Women live longer than men, receive lower pension and social security benefits in retirement, and spend on average about seven years out of the workforce to care for family. They are often too busy to think about what happens when those family members fly the nest, but they need to.
Why did you want to launch a legal challenge to preserve parliamentary sovereignty during the Brexit process?
The issue was much bigger than Brexit. If the Government had triggered Article 50 without parliamentary approval, without adhering to our constitutional requirements as specified in Article 50, there were two unthinkable scenarios. A) Internationally, the EU could say we have forfeited the two-year negotiation period and the treaty would cease. B) Domestically, it would have set a precedent that a Government and a handful of Ministers, the Executive, could use the Royal Prerogative to take away or diminish people’s rights without parliamentary scrutiny.
The official opposition appeared unable to challenge the government and as time was of the essence, I felt it was up to me.
Now that Article 50 has been triggered and Brexit seems highly likely, what are the best outcomes for the asset management industry on the basis that the UK leaves the single market?
In my day job, it is a constant balancing of cost, risk and return as no one has a crystal ball. This is what I believe needs to happen in terms of Brexit. The options will be ‘the deal’, no deal or remaining and being a strong reforming voice on our existing membership deal.
If we leave the single market or become an ETFA-like member, financial services will be impacted as we will not have passporting. This, with the threat of technology that will negatively impact employment in the City, and the aggressive vying for business from not just EU member states but also north America, Asia and Africa, will create a challenging environment for the asset management industry and supporting ecosystem operating as a third country.
There will also be an impact in terms of staff. In the House of Lords report on the impact of Brexit on financial services, February 2017, they state: ‘The UK financial sector employs 1.1 million people, of whom around 60,000 are EU nationals and 100,000 non-EU nationals. The ability to access highly-qualified staff and easily transfer them between the UK and the EU is a key issue for the financial services industry post-Brexit’.
Why do you think no one else stood up on this issue after the referendum?
The harsh realities of being a litigant in such a politically and publicly sensitive case at a time of high passions, irresponsible politicians and right-wing media meant that people were fearful. I did however think that once they understood the importance of the case, more people – academics, business owners, scientists, consultants, associations, trade unions – would join me. How wrong I was! But then again, I cannot blame anyone for not wanting to be the target of the abuse and violent threats to which I was subjected to.
How has your personal life changed since the Brexit challenge?
Everything is different – certain press have tried to ransack every part of my life; threats and vile abuse have become an everyday occurrence.
"I do not intend to waste, or be bullied from using, the platform I now have to be even more vocal"
This is not to say that men who put their heads above the parapet do not receive threats and abuse; what they rarely receive are the sexist threats or attacks on their appearance or attire. There are types of particularly poisonous phrasing reserved just for women. Add in elements of race, colour or ethnicity and the torrent becomes animalistic. When the threats include detailed violence against your children, real fear sets in and the words can break you.
I question leaving my home, if I can go out with my children in case they are endangered by being with me. I assess which social events I can go to – everything is different now.
Do you think that if it had been a man leading the charge, he would have been subjected to the same vitriol?
No, for the reason stated above.
What do you plan to do next?
Whilst the case brought me to the fore, it does not define me. As a campaigner for nearly a decade now, I have always been vocal about transparency, speaking up against what I believe is wrong and for diversity, equality and fairness. I do not intend to waste, or be bullied from using, the platform I now have to be even more vocal, and hopefully effective, in fighting for the country and world I wish my children to grow up in.