What One Man Two Guvnors teaches you about conflicts of interest

James Corden © Alamy

One Man Two Guvnors is a modern adaptation by Richard Bean of the 17th century Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. In 1960s Brighton an unemployed skiffle player Francis Henshall (played by James Corden, pictured, in 2011) has managed to become the personal minder to both Stanley Stubbins and gangster Roscoe Crabbe. To complicate matters, Stubbins is wanted by police for murdering Crabbe, who is really his sister Rachel in disguise.

The key moment

Francis Henshall’s attempts to juggle both roles leads to endless confusion and misunderstandings. Further complicating matters is his desire to have a bite to eat, which culminates in him nearly electrocuting a waiter and setting a (planted) member of the audience on fire. Things are eventually resolved with the inevitable happy ending. Stanley and Rachel are united, though not before Henshall takes advantage of his situation to get Stanley and Rachel to give him a paid holiday with Dolly, Charlie’s bookkeeper.

Lessons for investors

Richard Bean’s comedy is a great metaphor for the conflicts of interest within finance. Whatever they may say, the first loyalty of bankers and brokers is to the firm that employs them, not to their customers – a point that many private investors overlook.

While some of the more blatant conflicts of interest, such as supposedly independent financial advisors receiving commission from the sale of financial products, have been eliminated, others endure. The key is to avoid getting sentimental, and instead treat financial products the same dispassionate way as you would any other type of good or service.

Other financial wisdom

One reason why Francis is able to get away with his deceptions for so long is that both Stanley and Rachel are too busy to check up on him. In the same way, understanding how financial products work, monitoring the performance of those whom you put in charge of your money and looking around to see if you can get a better deal are all vital if you are to get good value for money.

Unfortunately, as the 2017 FCA report into the asset-management industry makes very clear, most retail investors don’t do this. Always bear in mind that if a product sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.