Have you ever heard of Paul Jennings? You know, the humourist who worked for The Observer throughout the fifties and sixties and who wrote The Great Jelly Of London? I haven’t, but for the purposes of this week’s Update I’ll pretend that I have because it’ll lead nicely into my main topic.

Even if you haven’t heard of Jenno (as I like to call him now that I’m pretending to know who he was), you probably have heard of something called Murphy’s Law, or sometimes Sod’s Law. This dictates that “whatever can go wrong, will.” I’d always assumed that the Murphy version was derived from someone being unpleasant to Irish people but apparently not.

There are lots of versions of both Sod’s and Murphy’s law – one which tickles me and which will be relevant in, oooh, about two and a half paragraphs’ time is this: “the degree of failure is in direct proportion to the effort expended and to the need for success.”

Peej (as those who pretend to know him call him) had his own version of Murphy’s Law which he called ‘resistentialism’. If you mix up ‘resistance’ and ‘existentialism’ you’ll get the basic idea. He laid this out in The Spectator in 1948 (paywall) – a time in which automated  tolerance-based rebalancing of advisory model portfolios was the stuff of a madman’s dreams – and if we had to summarise PJ’s (only to his closest pretend posthumous friends) philosophy of resistentialism in just a few words, it would be that “things are against us”, or that inanimate objects can display spite or malice against humans.

It’s for this reason that despite my love for my electric bike I won’t be signing up for VanMoof’s new 35mph pedelec, even if you were allowed to ride it that fast in the UK, which you’re not. Being on a thing that goes that fast that wants to kill me without a steel rollcage sounds like folly to me.

I mention all this because someone really needs to pop round to Guy Opperman’s house and remind him of the tenets of resistentialism. P-Jenn would be ideal but is busy having been dead for the last 32 years. This is important because at the PLSA conference this week Guy – generally considered a very acceptable pensions minister I think – promised a simplification of pension statements and – gulp – a ‘pensions season’ which means that all schemes (this is DC world) will send out their statements at roughly the same time. So if you ever wonder “hmm, I wonder what month I’ll get my paper annual pension statement. Could it be February, or perhaps June? Maybe I’m just kerrazy and it’s really November.” well, then, you’re in luck.

Where to start with this? Well, first of all cramming a big workload that’s normally spread across the year into just one season (and you know he’ll pick tax-year end) is like a massive experiment to prove both Murphy’s Law and resistentialism. The statements hate us, and so do the systems that generate them, and so too will the people operating the systems when we ask them to pull all-nighters so that PAPER STATEMENTS CAN GET POSTED ALL AT ONCE. Sorry, got pulled back in time there to a paper-based 1948 world and had to shout over the steam engines. This is definitely going to go wrong.

Any of us who lived through a day, sorry, A-Day (that joke © Steve Bee 2006) also have an inbuilt mistrust of ‘simplification’. The thing is, you can’t create very simple Stuff – in this case statements – unless the thing you are describing is also simple. I recall being asked, and by asked I mean ‘ordered on pain of dismissal’, to write a pricing guide for a particular platform I may have worked for once because the existing one was too complicated. The charging structure of said platform was a thing of deep, complex, lustrous beauty and it was said that no one person could understand all of it. Lord knows I didn’t. I gave it a crack, using all my best non-complex words and that, and got given it back at some velocity on the basis that it was still too complex and wanted to be shorter. You may now take moment to imagine my response, and that’s just one of the reasons why I probably can’t work in corporate life ever again. This too will be the fate of simpler statements, I fear.

However well-intentioned this kind of thing is, it never works. Resistentialism always gets you in the end. PaJen taught us that, and he taught us well.


  • The FCA would like two sugars and no biscuits please, oh OK maybe just a custard cream if you have one. Sour news for all advisers who have been working naked from the waist down for the last 18 months.
  • This is a pretty balanced and generally good guide to the issues around outsourcing to DFMs on a reliance on others / agent as client basis. It is, however, 40 pages long. Please see earlier comment on complexity…
  • We’re hiring again! I can’t keep up. This time we need a PR manager and an account exec. If you are someone like that or know someone like that who’d like to join a growing team (the team is growing, not the individuals in it who are all fully grown, except in an emotional sense) then take a look here.
  • I really want to whip up support for today’s HomeGames – going live in about 25 minutes. This week we’re trying something totally different and stepping outside the industry to look at whisky as a sector and its parallels with our own. It’s going to be great fun, mainly because we have the fantastic Julie Trevisan Hunter of the Scotch Whisky Experience with us. I’ve known Julie for a long time and she is just the best communicator about the sector she is so expert in. I think you’ll love this one. Come join us here, or later on the lang cat’s YouTube channel.
  • We also still need respondents for our big annual omnibus State of the Adviser Nation It’s here and you get a bunch of nice things in return. We all like nice things.
  • And your music choice this week is inspired by the news that Adele is about to release some new music. Here’s Ektoskull by Replicant (US) from their new Malignant Reality record to celebrate.

I’m on hols next week somewhere unpleasant, so another feline will Update you then. Be good.