WCRS founder says bad advice cost him pounds 1m

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The Independent Online
One of the stars of the advertising industry's 1980s heyday is still fighting for compensation from a leading private client stockbroker, five years after he claims bad advice and negligent handling of his account cost him more than a million pounds.

In a dramatic clash of cultures between Soho and the Square Mile, Ron Collins, the prizewinning "creative" who co-founded the WCRS advertising agency, says he lost a fortune because of the way a discretionary portfolio was run for him by Credit Suisse Asset Management.

After months of disagreement and reams of increasingly acrimonious correspondence, the Securities and Futures Authority was called in last year to try and reconcile the warring parties, but the matter remains unresolved.

At the heart of the tale, whose cameo roles include walk-ons by Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley and Uri Geller, lies the collapse in value of Mr Collins's holding of more than 2 million shares in the agency, which by the time of the fall had been renamed Aegis.

From a high in 1989 of 376p, Aegis shares fell to a low of 12.5p in 1993 as recession and the over-expansion of the late 1980s boom came home to roost. During two hectic weeks of panic selling in the summer of 1992, they tumbled from 95p to 39p before Mr Collins finally sold out.

On 29 June 1992, his shares were worth almost pounds 2m, having reached a peak value of more than pounds 7m. By the time they were finally disposed of on 13 July, their value had plummeted to pounds 800,000.

According to Mr Collins, Credit Suisse failed to inform him of the precipitate fall in his Aegis shares and dissuaded him from selling until the shares had lost most of their value. He also alleges the broker failed to diversify his portfolio away from its reliance on just one share in a notoriously volatile and cyclical sector.

Credit Suisse, which was backed up by the SFA's Complaints Bureau, puts the blame on Mr Collins who, the firm says, made a policy of diversification impossible to carry out by withdrawing cash to fund his "extravagant" lifestyle as fast as it was realised by share sales.

In addition to the high cost of getting divorced, Mr Collins acquired Littleton House, the pounds 650,000 property in which Elizabeth Hurley and Hugh Grant hid from the press after allegations linked the actor to Divine Brown, a Los Angeles prostitute.

Despite refusing to accept responsibility for Mr Collins's loss, Credit Suisse did, however, admit in a letter to him that "the account has not been managed in line with our standard practice". It also conceded that because it did not follow Aegis closely itself it had had to rely on outside advice on the shares, which throughout the rapid decline in their price remained positive.

The yawning gulf between the two sides emerged clearly from an internal Credit Suisse memo, seen by the Independent, in which one of the firm's fund managers described a visit to Mr Collins's Wiltshire farmhouse.

Underlining the culture clash, the memo said of Mr Collins: "He is 56 but bohemian in appearance with a short pony-tail."

After describing the adman's interest in astrology and star signs, and his new girlfriend's interest in yoga, the note concluded: "He seems to rely very heavily on his friend, Uri Geller, for advice. I would suggest that his lifestyle is somewhat extravagant."

According to Credit Suisse, the firm explained clearly to Mr Collins when he opened an account in 1987 at the height of his successful advertising career that it would be prudent to diversify his portfolio. However, by 1989, although it had sold pounds 900,000 worth of Aegis shares, the diversification was no further ahead because of Mr Collins's persistent withdrawals.

Later the firm advised against selling any more shares because of the weak price: "Our strategy was to sell on strength and we were looking for that strength to return. At no point did we receive outside advice that we should alter this strategy - broker comment was favourable."

When Mr Collins turned to the SFA, the City watchdog which regulates stockbrokers, he received short shrift. In a letter from James Carver of the SFA's complaints bureau, he was told: "These panic sell-offs are always difficult to judge whether you are an amateur or a professional. I can well understand you worrying about your shares just as the broker would say `Don't panic, there is nothing wrong with this company. It will recover in due course'."

The SFA went on to tell Mr Collins that, despite the discretionary agreement with Credit Suisse, he could have made an execution-only order which "would have relieved the firm of all responsibility for the judging of the sale of shares. It seems that you did not take on that role until you did decide to sell the shares at about 40p."

Mr Collins, who admits he is a novice in financial matters who would have no understanding of the difference between discretionary and execution- only management of his account, recalls that the fund manager in charge of his account only agreed to sell the shares after "I swore at him, and ordered him to sell, reminding him that the shares were in free-fall as we spoke".

The SFA concluded: "The firm cannot be made responsible for a judgement or opinion on a particular investment that turned out to be incorrect as long as that opinion was supported by sound reasoning based on research made available to the firm."

Mr Carver told Mr Collins he could take the matter to arbitration, but warned him that the maximum claim he could make under that procedure would be for pounds 50,000.

He ended: "It seems that we have reached the end of the road in relation to conciliation."