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Time to Rethink the “Sophisticated Investor”

Policymakers need to change the way they think about so-called “sophisticated investors.” The way they think about these organizations now disenfranchises the millions of ordinary people these big investors represent and makes it literally impossible to hold such big investors to account. This creates a dangerous flaw at the heart of the way financial markets are organized. This is not just abstract musing: it is demonstrably leading to poor outcomes for the ordinary people who depend on big investors. The good news is that policymakers can make a difference by applying a simple principle to “sophisticated investors”: accountability. It need not cost a lot or involve a lot of bureaucracy. They must demand that big investors, and the fund managers they hire, disclose more to the public. What they disclose must allow (truly) independent outsiders to analyze how well the big investors have performed, including how cost-effective they are. Anyone who believes in markets knows that harnessing people’s self-interest helps to make markets work. If policymakers choose to enfranchise the rest of society, they will be doing just that. Vested interests – including much of the financial services sector, many big investors, and even some policymakers – will call this idea outlandish. Some will portray it as an attack on financial markets. Even observers with no vested interest may worry that it will damage markets or the economy or both. Nothing could be further from the truth. An 80-year-old parallel shows the way. This change in approach would help to ensure that financial markets serve society as a whole, rather than just the people who work in them.