Opinion: Farewell to all that

All good things must come to an end. From next month, I’m handing this column over to Liz Pfeuti. It’s been a pleasure – and sometimes a challenge – to think about asset management in a new way for this slot. As journalists, we are used to keeping our opinions to ourselves.

Not being an industry insider, I wasn’t sure I even had that many opinions about asset management. It turned out I did. Maybe too many. That is not for me to judge. As I look back on the time that I’ve been writing this column, and the even longer period that I’ve been involved with Funds Europe, what strikes me most is how much the asset management industry has changed. In the main, those changes have been for the better. 

It is now part of a fund manager’s job to have an environmental and social conscience. That would have been unthinkable 20 years ago when ethical investing was largely for weirdos and fund managers ran screaming from any suggestion that they were motivated by a desire to do good. There are still problems with greenwashing and proper categorisation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments, but the battle to have these issues taken seriously has been won. Just as well, given the huge challenges our world faces. 

The other positive change I’ve seen since we launched Funds Europe in 2002 is that the funds industry is much more diverse. I cannot overstate how important this is or how happy I am that it has happened – though there is, of course, more to do.

Nothing oppresses people quite as much as not seeing themselves represented in any given area of the economy or society. When we first started this magazine, the funds industry was dominated by white, middle-aged men in spotty ties. No harm to them, but that monoculture wasn’t good for the industry and it wasn’t good for society more widely. For investment managers are like politicians. They make decisions that affect people’s lives. To invest or not to invest: that can be the difference between a company thriving or failing, particularly at the private equity and venture capital end of the spectrum. 

Fund managers’ decisions also influence financial outcomes. With more and more people invested in the stock market through their pensions, it is important that the investment decisions that will affect their financial futures are, as it were, democratic. For that to be the case, the people making the investment decisions must be as diverse as society itself. 

Above all, lack of diversity is boring. I remember standing at the back of the room at an investment conference in Frankfurt once and being invited by a German colleague to contemplate the delegates. All male. All white. Nearly all heterosexual probably. And all apparently wearing the same charcoal-coloured suit. 

The other big change we’ve seen since this magazine launched is Brexit. Our raison d’être was to document and foster a single market for investment funds, and so it’s no surprise that I didn’t support Brexit. Looking back, however, I can see that the monoglot Anglo-Saxon lens through which the UK viewed its European partners perhaps made this outcome inevitable. 

As a Scot, I see an opportunity. Scotland, where investment funds were invented, didn’t choose Brexit. If we rejoin the European family, our industry could perhaps play a pivotal role in promoting the ESG-focused investment that Europe and the world craves. In the meantime, thank you for reading. I look forward to connecting with you again on the features pages.

© 2021 funds europe



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