Most subjects of human enquiry are supported by a generally acknowledged and respected theoretical framework which explains how things work and why they sometimes fail. The field of finance is poorly served in this regard, supported only by an academic theory that predicts the perfection of “efficient markets” while ignoring market imperfections.

As a result, investors and practitioners are left to fend for themselves drawing on convention, past experience and a theory they don’t believe in to inform their actions. It is hardly surprising that the finance industry is failing society with its periodic crashes, vast cost and unaccountability.

The theory developed at The Paul Woolley Centre, supported by empirical studies, represents a radically new approach that takes into account the principal-agent problems arising when asset owners delegate responsibility to asset managers. It shows that asset mispricing can occur despite all market participants acting prudently to maximize profits in light of the available information.

The new framework offers fuller and more convincing explanations for the principal forms of asset mispricing than have so far been presented in the academic or practitioner field. The implications extend to all market participants; both for private strategies and for the social ends of better functioning markets.

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Misdiagnosing the crisis of capitalism

Much of the commentary on the crisis of capitalism ignores the role of institutional investors in creating the conditions in which corporate short-termism can thrive. We argue that a greater focus on long-run value creation in the capital markets – instigated by long-horizon asset owners – could help restore trust in the financial system and deliver meaningful benefits to society.

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Looking less at the scoreboard

Traditional performance monitoring reports do more harm than good. They encourage an excessive focus on performance data and contribute to procyclicality in decision-making by asset owners and managers. Minor tweaks to the existing approach are unlikely to achieve very much. Instead, a more fundamental re-think is required.

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