GMM Executive Session: Perspectives from the C-Suite

NICSA’s 2018 General Membership Meeting in Boston was kicked off Thursday, Oct. 11, with a peek into the minds of top asset management executives.

Bob Mulhall, Partner, Wealth and Asset Management, EY, led a panel of seasoned executives from RBC Global Asset Management, State Street Global Advisors, and Eaton Vance through the discussion, which focused on data analytics, technology and investment strategies.

TECH CONSIDERATIONS
By 2020, RBC Funds Trust, the U.S. mutual fund family of RBC Global Asset Management, aims to become a data-driven, digital firm. Kathleen Gorman, President, RBC Funds, RBC Global Asset Management, said the goal is to create “the infrastructure, systems and culture to make evidentiary rather than experiential decisions, and use that data to support innovation and competitiveness, and become more efficient in decision making.”

 Lori Heinel, Executive Vice President, Deputy Global Chief Investment Officer at State Street Global Advisors, said asset managers are always looking for an informational advantage, and the cache of data available to analysts and resources allowing them to identify signals and investment opportunities is beyond the scope of what we ever imagined.

She illustrated this fact by pointing to the Worldscope database, which houses the fundamental financial data of companies globally.

“If you look at the number of data points captured there and then you look at Google, there are 10 million times more data points created by Google Search in one month compared to the entire Worldscope database,” Heinel said. “So if you’re not thinking about how to harness, interpret, analyze and draw investment insights from that data, you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity.”

For Matt Witkos, president of Distribution at Eaton Vance, it’s important to consider what to do with the data after it’s collected. “There are many third-party providers of data; you can purchase data …that provide insight into financial advisors, but what I’ve learned is it’s important to consider how you make it actionable.”

To that point, Gorman said it’s also important to successfully onboard staff when new data-based or technical solutions are put in place. “It’s incredibly difficult to change behavior,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process and that’s one of the things we didn’t really anticipate. Once you create these great tools, consider how to get people to use them.”

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION

In recent years, State Street has taken a lead on diversity and inclusion when it comes to indexing practices. Its “Gender Diversity Index” fund — represented by the arrival of Fearless Girlon Wall Street — invests in U.S. large-capitalization companies that rank among the highest in their sector in achieving gender diversity across senior leadership.

“We find companies appreciate the perspective we bring, because we don’t go in from a judgement perspective; we actually go in from a value standpoint,” Heinel said. “We can show them the research that demonstrates that companies with certain types of practices, including diversity, actually deliver, in the aggregate, longer-term returns, even within in their own industry.”

State Street has seen enormous success with its diversity campaign: 152 publicly-traded companies that the firm reached out to (through either its voice or its vote) that previously had no women on their boards now have at least one female board member.

ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL & GOVERNANCE

Eaton Vance recently acquired Calvert, one of the first fund complexes to concentrate on ESGs.

“The purchase of Calvert has changed how we think at Eaton Vance,” Witkos said. “ESGs are an undefined space in terms of who does it right, and there’s an opportunity for a lot of education. We’re used to just talking about investment performance, but now people want to know if their money is making a difference, and they want you to prove it to them. It’s a new endeavor and there’s a lot of interest in it.”

When discussing the active vs. passive debate, Witkosfocused on customizing beta exposure.
“You can build an index the way you want it at Eaton Vance through our affiliate, Parametric, and why that’s important is about $20B of our custom indexing has some type of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) flavor to it,” he said.

Gorman said there’s been a spectrum of ESG adoption at RBC Funds. “One of our London teams has a very integrated ESG model that is being taken to some of our other investment teams to see if they can help them achieve whatever’s right for them,” she said. “They’re not all going to be created equal — based on the investment strategy, there’s different ways to incorporate ESG.”

RBC Funds’ ultimate objective is to be a partner to its clients. “We want to understand your objectives and work with you to solve your problems,” Gorman said.

 



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