Fiona Frick, chief executive officer of Swiss investment house Unigestion, talks to Jayna Rana about the 'polarisation' in asset management and why politics influencing economics is here to stay.
Having worked for the firm for three decades, Fiona Frick, CEO of Unigestion, which oversees $23bn of assets, knows a thing or two about what is central to its culture - that active risk-taking is the engine of performance.
She joined the firm, which caters mostly for institutional investors but plans to build its presence in the retail space across Europe, in 1990 as a fundamentals analyst covering traditional asset classes before managing high yield and convertible bond strategies.
Just five years later she spearheaded the move towards equities and led the equity team until 2011, when she became chief executive.
She says: "By then we were already robust in equities so my main goal was to construct our investment engine and be strong on several pillars rather than just the one.
"Now with 50% in equities, 30% in private equity and the rest in multi-asset and liquid alternative strategies, we are exactly where we want to be.
"There is a polarisation within asset management with two key players; there are the big supermarket-type houses with large assets and wide ranges of products; and there are the smaller specialised asset managers, which champion a small but important area - that is the camp we want to be in."
Despite recent regulatory developments, changing client needs, and not to mention the UK's impending withdrawal from the European Union, Frick says the firm has remained true amid a more challenging backdrop to its DNA to understand and target risk in a measured and informed way.
For example, Unigestion is known for its commitment to ESG, which underpins the investment management process on its broader offerings, but Frick says it also provides tailor-made ESG portfolios adapted to clients of different ages, social outlooks and nationalities.
"We include ESG in everything we do at the risk level. Constructing long-term performance is about adding ‘good' risk and those who do not integrate ESG tend to have lower performance.
"We also have products designed for specific investors because ESG is perceived differently by different people," she notes.
"For example, while nuclear power is considered bad in Germany, the French do not have a problem with it. We also manage money for younger investors who take a different view on how businesses are run, be that something as simple as its recycling policy."
While the group prides itself on constantly evolving to respond to new and old clients and their investment needs, and is preparing for an upcoming launch to boost its private equity capabilities, Frick says it does not launch new strategies on a regular basis.
"We see more demand for solutions rather than products and adapt to that," she says. "We are not a house that launches 20 new funds every year. We are slow on that front, but always focused."
Meanwhile, there have also been staff changes at the senior level including the recent hiring of former Columbia Threadneedle distribution head Dominik Kremer as head of business development. Frick says Kremer's appointment last year was a "pivotal point" in Unigestion's strategic growth.
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