Bertrand, Mirabaud recently hired Majid Hassan as head of business development for the Middle East, which I understand is a new position for the company. What is the significance of this appointment?
We have been operating as a group out of Dubai for many years, with a focus on private banking, and we thought it was the right time for some of our products to be gaining traction on the asset management side to beef up our presence locally with someone dedicated to asset management.
That is Majid’s role. He will follow investors in the major Gulf Cooperation Council countries around Dubai, such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, and the idea is to talk to institutions, the large sovereign funds and also commercial banks, insurance companies and external wealth managers who would be interested to know more about our capabilities.
Do you plan to increase your business exposure in the Middle East quite significantly?
In the past two or three years, we have hired a lot of people and launched a number of products that are now coming to fruition.
They have a more significant track record and an asset base that gives us the confidence some of our capabilities will be appealing to local investors in the Middle East, as everywhere else, too.
The strategy in the Middle East is not that different from the one we are deploying across Europe, which is what I call a two-sided approach.
On one hand, this covers the institutional investors. We have some credential in that space with major consultants, particularly in the UK.
At the same time, we are also developing the wholesale or B2B market, where we are also seeing some traction across Europe.
In the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, the strategy is very similar in both segments.
In some markets we still need to build the brand, and the Middle East falls into that category.
This is changing but it takes time. Asset management is a long-haul flight.
People like to know a bit about the financial strength of an organisation such as Mirabaud, and I wanted to understand the ownership structure.
The group has great financial strength for a simple reason: we have a basic business model.
We manage money for private investors on the private banking side and for institutional and intermediaries on the asset management side.
The third pillar is the brokerage business, and in none of those businesses do we take risks based on our own accounts.
We do not use our balance sheet to leverage anything exotic or too sophisticated.
Some would say that is boring and conservative. We see it as safe, secure and long-term oriented.
The business is owned by five managing partners. Some of them represent the seventh generation of a given family.
We will soon celebrate the 200-year history of the group, and so far it has been pretty successful at managing transition and succession.
One of our managing partners, Giles Morland, is based in London. The other four sit in Geneva, where the headquarters of the group is.
London is the place where we have hired the vast majority of our recent recruits on the investment side but,
In Geneva, we also manage a lot of Swiss equities, balance mandates and alternative investments.
We also have asset management capabilities in France and in Spain, where we manage a local portfolio, but the two major hubs are London and Geneva.
What are your specific responsibilities, Bertrand?
I am based in Geneva and travel extensively to various locations where we operate and do business.
I have a global responsibility and am travelling every week. Often I’m in London, Paris, Zurich, Spain or Dubai.
I have doubled the size of my team in the past 18 months. I report to Lionel Aeschlimann, one of the five managing partners. He is the CEO of the asset management business line and one of the five owners of the group.
How do you operate globally and what are the priority markets?
We operate out of London, Paris, Spain, Switzerland, in multiple locations and Dubai on the asset management side.
The group has other offices where we do not do asset management but we have some staff there, as in Hong Kong or Montreal.
Which priority markets do you identify at the moment?
The two main hubs providing us with asset management clientele are the UK and Switzerland. That is already a significant commitment and investment plan.
We have hired a lot of people on the investment team front, where we have four new colleagues to reinforce our fixed income capabilities in credit.
Which products are selling well?
We are seeing a lot of interest in income strategies in both equities and fixed income, with rates in negative territory in some currencies.
How to get income is becoming a major issue for investors, and we have investment solutions in this field.
For the high-dividend strategies, which we launched just over a year ago, we have also seen some good traction recently.
What is the nuance of that in terms of how well certain types of products are selling in particular geographical markets?
We are seeing a lot of traction for Spanish equities in Spain and for Swiss equities in Switzerland, but beyond the local preference or niche markets, flexible fixed income seems to be the common denominator across markets in terms of intention.
What is the relative importance of the distribution channels that Mirabaud uses in terms of generating new business?
It depends what you mean by channels.
The sales team I have are organised by segments in addition to the geography.
I’ve got people who are covering institutions in Switzerland and others covering B2B, other banks and other wealth manager platforms in Switzerland.
We do business with platforms in the UK, Ireland and Italy, and we do business with local IFAs in France.
At the same time, we pitch our capabilities to pension funds in each of those countries.
We do not deal directly with the final clients in a retail sense.
Are you doing more business through platforms than other distribution channels or more business through your salesforce than with intermediaries?
We see the emergence of the platform as a source of distribution that cannot be ignored.
That is why we have plugged our system and our funds in some of them. In the UK, for example, we are registered on various platforms.
As of this moment, the platforms in the UK, or anywhere else in Europe, have not supplemented other channels of distribution.
We see that as a growing trend we want to be part of but, for the moment, it has not yet materialised for us in a large and significant way.
Are you planning to launch any new products aimed at the retirement market on the back of the forthcoming pension reforms, whether that’s in the UK specifically or further afield during the course of this year?
We are trying to bring our income management as well as our multiasset capabilities to the retirement market.
We have funds that were launched a couple of years ago which we were incubating and growing quietly on the side, that will be more visible in the coming quarters.
Mirabaud is historically a wealth manager, where managing multi-asset portfolios is the quintessence of that work.
We wanted to have various profiles of multi-asset funds and more aggressive solutions, which we will roll out in the coming quarters. They are not really product launches per se. It is not something new in our roster; it’s something we feel has the right track record and proven results.
How is your overall product strategy shaping up for 2015?
We will use our new team to launch a credit fund in the coming months, at the end of Q1 or early Q2, and that is pretty much it for the rest of the year.
At the same time, we remain opportunistic. We never close the door to a great investment team that would be interested to join us because they share the same values.