Meeting in Lugano: five specialists from Geneva, Luxemburg and Zurich
• Caduff: Gentlemen, how does your work now differ from the situation at the beginning of the year?
Dalla Corte: Fortunately, at Eurizon we were well equipped to adapt our client service activities to the current situation. Thus, we have been able to deliver updates on our strategies with our portfolio managers via dedicated video- or phone conferences. Through a series of webinar on various investment ideas we have been able to reach out to prospects, luckily this led on a few occasions to win new clients. However, there is no doubt that the travel ban for our portfolio managers makes the sales job far more challenging. Judging from the increased activity observed on the buy side during the last few weeks I believe that our clients have adapted and accepted the new way of interaction. On the client acquisition side, we took the opportunity to explore new ways to reach out to new investors and hope to be able to harvest the fruits soon.
Wenger: First of all let me say that it is great to see everybody in full health and with so much energy today. Nobody could have foreseen what happened over the last six months and I am impressed how our whole industry managed to conduct our business when switching into a home office mode more or less overnight. At State Street we are partially moving back to our offices again and have a split model in place which works really well. I think from an overall client perspective virtual meetings are well established and have proven an efficient way to communicate. Apart from that it is very much business as usual for us, focusing on being there for clients and building efficient and innovative investment solutions for them. This dialogue is of particular importance in times of heightened uncertainty.
Apel: I started 2020 like every year with full enthusiasm, I tavelled to Switzerland five times until beginning of March and I have met many clients and attended many events. With the first restrictions and travel bans I intensified my personal contact to my clients via phone, email and video conference tools. It turned out as a good way to stay in touch - surprisingly many people had more time to talk on the phone than before, working from home relaxed us all in way. This was refreshing in very difficult times with high uncertainty but it showed one thing: Being close but not too close to my clients was important. But now more and more clients are happy to meet in person again. Video conferencing and webinars will not go away but many prefer personal contact. As a conclusion I would say many client relationships developed positively.
Müller: I would distinguish here between services that have been in existence for some time and new services that we provide to market participants as an exchange. In the case of services with well-established processes and people with many years of experience, we have become even more efficient by working from home and increased digitalisation. In the case of new services which we have been providing for only a short time, for example in the area of the Financial Services Act, I now spend more time on coordinating activities. Coordinating teamwork is easier when everyone is on site. But what makes my work most different is the project area. There I have noticed an acceleration since the beginning of the year, because many people travel less and seem to have more time for new ventures. These changes are positive overall.
Stiefel: Slowly but surely, we are going back to normal at La Française. The marketing part has fortunately again increased in importance in our daily lives. Events like Fundplat Lunches are again taking place, I meet clients at their office or elsewhere. After many months of virtual exchanges, it feels much better to be out on the road again. As a salesperson, the personal contact with my clients is key to success. The only unfortunate fact is that our portfolio managers are still not allowed to travel. Last year, roadshows with portfolio managers were an important part of my work. And this is the exciting part, seeing clients and prospects with my colleagues from France makes a big difference. The feedback from my portfolio managers is very often that they have also learned a lot from my clients. Building relationships that are mutually beneficial is always my highest priority.
• Caduff: Where do you see the particular strengths of your offer?
Apel: We are a Norwegian asset manager with high expertise in Nordic asset classes, thematic strategies and of course in ESG. Norway and Scandinavia are generally assigned with positive attributes in Switzerland. Scandinavia in general is known for strong, stable and open economies with their own currencies (despite Finland) and a long tradition in global trading. Characteristics which are not unknown for the Swiss, especially as smaller countries have to compete on global markets. You can break this down to our offering as we offer our clients solid expertise in the Nordics with fixed income and equity strategies and in some global thematic funds like technology and clean tech/renewable energy. When you are small and you compete with the world you have to be good and act sustainable to build long lasting relations: Creating alpha and delivering service-alpha to my clients.
Müller: As a stock exchange, BX Swiss has very efficient structures, as we limit our activities to where we can differentiate ourselves most. If I had to sum this up with a few catchwords, I would say: unbureaucratic, reliable, agile, flexible, cost-efficient. We are very close to our customers and are always open to new approaches and are constantly adapting our range of services. These are not just empty phrases, as many of our customers would attest. This is one of the reasons why we have been able to gain new customers in many areas, for instance in the ETF segment.
Stiefel: At La Française we have a long experience in the ESG space, and the product range is constantly being expanded. We must place social and ecological values at the heart of our thinking and actions. The consequences of doing nothing would be catastrophic. In order to limit global warming to +2 degrees Celsius, we must reduce CO2 emissions significantly. The carbon footprint is a very important issue at La Française. We have launched two new bond funds this year. One with a fixed term, investing 2/3 in high yield and an investment grade portfolio, both funds have the objective of emitting 50 percent less CO2 than the relevant benchmarks.
Wenger: From a pure ETF perspective on a global basis it is clearly our Gold products in the US that have offered investors the ideal tool to hedge against risks and protect their portfolio. With the largest and most liquid ETF there we have seen strong flows ytd. From a European and Swiss perspective we see the strength of our offer in the one hand in sector ETFs and on the other hand in more conservative solutions such as low volatility, dividends or the fixed income space including convertible bonds. But coming back to sectors we believe they are of particular interest in the current environment and the sector dispersion we are seeing on global markets. They are also an efficient tool for investors to position themselves for the outcome of the upcoming US presidential elections.
Dalla Corte: In Switzerland we focus on our Chinese Onshore Bonds and Green Bonds expertise. We were among the first fund providers to offer a Renminbi Onshore Chinese bond fund to investors outside of China. This newly accessible asset class is a perfect fit for the negative interest rate environment Swiss investors must deal with as it provides a positive yield and a diversification benefit thanks to the low correlation to traditional asset classes. Meanwhile we see Green Bonds as the perfect fit for investors who chose to consciously invest for the protection of the planet. Our fund uses Green Bonds to finance sustainable projects while at the same time allowing the climate or environmental impact of these projects to be quantified, making it a very useful tool for investors interested in evaluating the positive externalities generated by their investment.
• Caduff: How does your company intend to grow further in Switzerland?
Wenger: State Street Global Advisors already has a broad and comprehensive product offer in Switzerland, be it in ETFs with our SPDR franchise, active strategies or in institutional mandates. We are constantly revisiting our offer and intend to grow with new ideas, for instance in the ESG space where we have a long heritage, great investment expertise and a unique approach, both in equities and also fixed income. The pandemic has shown that our industry is still very much a people’s business and with our local team operating in Switzerland we have experts available in all local languages which is a key factor for our growth strategy both in the intermediary and institutional client segments. I think the combination of our people and the investment quality we offer puts us into a strong position.
Stiefel: We focus on our strengths in a few niches and that is where we want to grow. Since 2008, we have been managing Subordinated Debt Portfolios. Paul Gurzal has started that strategy and is still responsible for it. This expertise is very important, especially in an asset class that has massively evolved over the last years. In the current crisis, banks are part of the solution and have an important part to play for the health of the economy. We continue to be very successful with our fixed maturity funds in the high yield sector. High yield has very similar characteristics to equities but with only half the volatility of equities. One important aspect currently is the fact, that the forecasts from rating agencies and many market participants for defaults are too bearish. We believe that the market will benefit from a re-rating in the coming months.
Müller: We want to achieve further growth as a stock exchange primarily through partnerships to continuously optimise our range of service offerings for our customers. With our employees and our parent company, the Stuttgart Stock Exchange, we have access to a national and international network of highly specialised companies. Now, together with selected partners, we intend to develop new business models and offer our customers services that they cannot obtain elsewhere. The stock market business is highly competitive, standing still is not an option and would also be very boring overall.
Dalla Corte: Eurizon manages more than 423 billion Euro (including the participation at Penghua Fund, China) and offers a broad range of funds solutions with recognised abilities in Euro and emerging market fixed income market as well as multi-asset segment. Most of our funds have a size large enough to be of interest for institutional and wholesale clients. We have been present in Switzerland for the last two years and even if we were able to gain the trust of many Swiss investors, we are certain that there is potential to expand our client base much further. Moreover, we are committed to continuously upgrade and deepen our investment knowledge in order to fulfil the specific needs of our investors.
Apel: We are one of the biggest asset managers in Scandinavia but in Switzerland our clients value us as a boutique with some but very good strategies. I feel this is something clients like and support as we can add value to their portfolios. We have a strong commitment to Switzerland and my clients feel this. Early this year I started collaboration with a small but excellent Swiss consultant to expand a little bit, but in a careful and slow way. My goal is to build up long lasting relationships and to offer funds my clients need, for example Swiss Francs hedged Nordic high yield which we launched recently. We see a growing demand for Nordic equities and Nordic fixed income based on our excellent reputation in global technology stocks where we have many clients throughout Switzerland. We grow slowly but constantly by expanding our network according to our slogan: Cool headed - warm hearted!
Hagen-Holger Apel joined DNB Asset Management S.A. in July 2015 as Senior Client Portfolio Manager. In this function, he is a link between the Norwegian-based fund management and international clients, thus ensuring a high level of quality in client service. Apel holds a degree in economics (LMU Munich) and is a Certified International Investment Analyst (CIIA) of DVFA Frankfurt. He has 20 years of industry experience as a banker, trader and portfolio manager and has been active in the Luxemburg financial centre for thirteen years. He speaks German, English and Swedish. In international business, he is responsible in a leading position for Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
Manuel Dalla Corte joined Eurizon in June 2018 as Country Head for Switzerland. Responsible for the business development he works closely with banks, asset managers and institutional clients. Prior to this his over 20 years experience was gained at Aviva Investors, Jefferies AM, Lombard Odier and UBS.
Matthias Müller is Managing Director at BX Swiss and responsible for the Listing division and the platform regservices.ch. He has 16 years of stock exchange experience and started his career in the financial sector with UBS and Credit Suisse. Before joining BX Swiss, he was responsible for the group-wide innovation management of SIX. Matthias Müller studied business administration at the HWZ and has an advanced federal diploma in financial market operations from AZEK.
Peter Stiefel is the Country Head for Switzerland. He has been working for Gonet La Française Advisors, a joint venture owned by the Geneva-based private bank Gonet & Cie. and the French asset manager La Française, since September 2018. Prior to this, he worked for AllianceBernstein for eleven years and was responsible for funds distribution in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Prior to that, he worked for UBS Investment Bank and its predecessor firms for 22 years. He was responsible for the sale of US equities to institutional clients in French-speaking Switzerland. Peter Stiefel is a member of the Swiss Finance Institute and is a graduate of its Executive Program and the CAS in Asset Management.
As Country Head of State Street Global Advisors AG, Bernhard Wenger is primarily responsible for the business development and distribution of «SPDR ETFs» in Switzerland. Prior to this, he worked for ETF Securities, where he was Head of European Distribution. In addition, Bernhard Wenger held senior positions at Morgan Stanley, HSBC and BNP Paribas and holds a «European Master in Management» from ESCP Europe (Paris, Oxford, Berlin).
Thomas J. Caduff is the CEO of Fundplat LLC. He has worked in the financial industry for about 40 years. His professional experience includes roles at the stock exchange commissariat of the Canton of Zurich, Bank Vontobel, Credit Suisse and UBS. Thomas J. Caduff also served for three decades in one division and multiple brigades of the Swiss Army, as a communication/media officer.