The Care-taker

care taker

The Caretaker or janitor was a familiar figure in apartment blocks until recently. Their demise has coincided with the advent of outsourced facilities management. Listening to the National Association of Fire Door manufacturers calling this morning for a single accountable person for the fire safety of apartment blocks got me thinking of what we’ve lost.

A care taker is someone who takes care of an asset when the owner is not there.

Strangely, from Pinter to Matt Groenig, portrayals of the Caretaker have been unsympathetic. A search through google images shows we associate care-taking with mismanagement at best – naked horror at worst.

Care-taking needs a brand make-over. Perhaps now is the time to think of care-takers in a kinder light. We need to bring care taking  back in-house!

“Taking care” begins at home.

The concept of risk management should have “taking care” as its motto. Instead it has “outsource” written under its theoretical coat of arms. Whether it be a residential tower block or a hedge fund, controls that mitigate risk are now part of a complex management structure with no immediate point of contact/concern/complaint for the customer.

Outsourcing is theoretically advantageous; facility managers like fiduciary managers can be professionals whose processes are repeatable and effective. But they don’t live on the premises, they are disassociated with the day-to-day management and are too remote for ordinary people to talk to.

If it takes a tragedy to improve things…

I am nervous about using the misery of others to make my point, but the visceral reality of Grenfell brings home the importance of taking care – of governance.

The FCA set up Independent Governance Committees to ensure that those in contract based workplace pensions got the standards of care expected by those in trust based occupational schemes (including master trusts). The Asset Management Market Study is now recommending something that looks pretty close to an on the site “care-taking” role for each fund.

It is difficult to get your head round fund governance using the language of the Asset Management Market Study as the sections on fund governance are written for fund managers by lawyers. Ordinary people need a comparator. “Care-taking” is a good comparator.

A proper fund care-taker is accessible to those who have handed over the responsibility of managing money to others. He is there to answer questions as well as to ensure that the funds are properly managed. He (and I mean she as well) is there to issue instructions in emergencies and general reports most of the time.

I always remember care-takers and janitors as people who had absolute authority. Those who have been on Lady Lucy this summer will recognise the importance of lock-keepers in providing orderly management of boats through locks – they too are care-takers – the best of them unquestionable in their authority.

The buck stops with the care-taker.

This last point about authority seems critical. If we do not give our care-takers the right to be right, we consign them to cleaning duties. The best care-takers take on care for which  extends beyond the mundane tasks so that they become our champions.

The problems with tower blocks clad with flammable material is that no-one is considering what it is like for those within the blocks, there is no-one on site to whom concerns can be made.

The lessons that are being learned is that the remoter you make your caretaker, the harder it is for concerns to be heard. This is precisely why we need to champion our IGCs and the new independent fund governors and why they cannot be allowed to dissolve into the amorphous management structures of the fund management executives.

The care-takers stood out as being distinct from the commercial management  but integral to the care of the customers. We need to get some respect back for caretakers, re-introduce them onto estates (and to some locks on the Thames!). We need to pay them properly and treat them with respect. They are the people who we will rely on not just to stave off disaster, but to ensure our buildings, boats and funds run properly day-to-day.

My three thoughts on a Monday morning in July!

  1. We need more care, we need independent care-takers!
  2. Care begins at home – on site – in house.
  3. We need care-takers we respect absolutely.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to The Care-taker

  1. Brian Gannon says:

    Henry I know you mean no malice but I think the references to Grenfell are crass analogistically inaccurate and detract from the valid points you are making. How about taking this blog off and rewriting it with a different point of reference? No wish to be rude but I think you were right to be nervous about using such a tragedy to make your valid point. Please consider taking this blog down and rewriting it.

  2. Adrian Boulding says:

    Will the new independent fund governors help asset managers to take a long term focus? Equity investors are in for the long haul but often the performance measures are short term deviation from benchmarks. Adrian

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