Why can't investing be as transparent as knowing what's in your burger?

PUBLISHED: 13:05 13 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:05 13 September 2019

Insist on honesty and transparency in your business deals, like successful burger chain Honest Burger. Picture: Getty Images

Insist on honesty and transparency in your business deals, like successful burger chain Honest Burger. Picture: Getty Images

Archant

If burger restaurants can be transparent, so too can the financial services sector, says Peter Sharkey.

The vibrant city of Brighton, or London-on Sea as many people still call it, is famous for a variety of things. It boasts, for example, the nation's oldest, continuous-use cinema and is home to the country's only Grade 1 listed pier. Author Peter James has set all of his crime novels, featuring DI Roy Grace, around the city and did you know that when ABBA won the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo in 1974, the contest took place in the Brighton Dome concert hall?

Review any similar, pub quiz-style list of Brighton-related facts and it's unlikely you'll find grounds to associate the city with burgers. Fish and chips? Definitely. Oyster bars and several seriously good seafood restaurants? Absolutely. But burgers? Well, they're not to be found anywhere near the top of the city's recommended range of culinary delights.

Perhaps this omission will soon be rectified thanks to a couple of friends, Tom Barton and Philip Eeles, who started their business making home-made patties in Brighton more than a decade ago. At first, the duo sold their burgers at local food festivals and to local restaurants, but in 2009, they opened their own restaurant in London's Brixton market, naming it Honest Burger.

Today, the pair have 34 restaurants, 28 of which are in London; it's reasonable to assume that a combination of hard work and the successful application of a simple idea has underpinned the duo's impressive business growth.

Yet unlike other up-market burger chains such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Byron Burger, both of which have struggled recently, closing more than 30 sites between them, Honest Burger is increasing turnover and improving profits. Furthermore, Messrs Barton and Eeles plan to open half a dozen new sites outside the capital in 2019-20.

As their peers struggle, what is it that differentiates Honest Burger? The clue lies in the company's name.

"We opened our own butchery last year, so we know exactly what goes into our burgers: 100 percent British beef," said Mr Barton earlier this week. "Almost everything we sell in our restaurants is homemade by us. Our chips are cut and cooked fresh every day, never frozen," he added.

The company works with local suppliers, so confirming the provenance of its products, a strategy which not only promotes transparency, it actively embraces the concept. Honest Burger's financial performance highlight the benefits of adopting such a clear, uncluttered approach.

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In some respects, the UK's up-market burger sector mirrors the nation's personal finance industry.

At what might be called the 'opaque' end of the personal finance scale, there's lots of fancy, expensive products, the provenance of which is often sketchy, though you'll always find that the promise of returns is eye-catching. However, on the basis that if something looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is, such 'investment' products are best avoided. That people are taken in by them and their often aggressive salesmen usually explains why they lose money.

The point here is this: before investing in anything, you should investigate as thoroughly as possible what it is you're investing in. If shadow, shade or obscurity exist, ask for an explanation; if a plausible one is not forthcoming, walk away.

Of course, spending hours and hours researching investments is not an option for most of us, while others are simply not interested in a company's dividend yield, pre-tax profits and the like, even though they recognise the advantages to be gained from investing over the long term.

In these instances, utilising the services of a fund manager, ideally one embracing the concept of transparency, is worth considering.

A decent manager will begin by establishing your attitude towards risk; this is normally undertaken online when you might be asked a series of questions designed to determine whether you're a cautious soul, a more adventurous type or somewhere in between.

You'll then be given the chance to consider how a portfolio created by the fund manager might suit your needs. The transparent firm will show where their portfolios are invested, provide details of returns and a host of additional information, including costs, designed to confirm that you're dealing with a bona fide company which, importantly, has the capability to deliver upon its promises.

Honest Burger has done well by keeping things simple; the effective fund manager does exactly the same.

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