Hallelujah, the office juniors are back after the CFA exams – I still haven’t quite got the knack of the Nespresso machine. It sure looks cool, very retro and shiny, but after a week of black sludgy filth, I need the flunkies back at the helm.
The bad news is that, following the Swiss Heritage merger (93.7% complete), we now have a company policy of minimum 75% staff with CFA or equivalent qualification. What a pointless exercise – who needs to know how to value a bond when there are geeks sitting just 20 feet away to do that stuff?
But the policy is the policy and, before you try to be clever, they want this for every department within every office. So we can’t just get the nerds to do it while us real businessmen go out and bring in the moolah.
In fact it is distracting me from the case in hand: getting our new target-date long/short Libor-plus fund series approved with regulators around the region. This is a novel concept for Asia (we’re telling people it’s big in Europe) and so the scrutineers are all over it like a rash.
As Product Ambassadors tend to do when the going gets tough, the PA for this strategy quit last week, so it falls to yours truly to be on the frontline yet again.
But I’m not quite on my own this week. I have the feverishly eager help of our office intern Monica. Really, she’s called Monica? I remember a good story about another intern called Monica…
This kid must be on drugs of some sort: she has just spent two weeks with the bond desk and she can still breathe! She’s two years into a BSc in Investment Management at Middle Earth University of South Hampshire (Ivy League? Cactus League, more like, Division 5 Southern) and now she’s got a crash-course of BS in Investment Management at the William T. Fitzgerald College of Applied Intuition.
It’s my responsibility to show her that the action is over at this side of the office. Here in sales, things are much more interesting, we’re more involved – with people not numbers – and, frankly speaking, we make more money.
How many asset-management CEOs come from the investment side versus how many from the business side? Ever thought about why that is? Stick to being an investment person and the best you can hope for is CIO, and everyone knows that’s a terrible job – you might as well be head of compliance!
It’s the third coffee of the day, she’s scribbling down almost every word I say, and I’m winning her round to my way of thinking.
Kim drops by to say hello and remind me that he’s a CEO from the investment side. Monica’s eyebrows are raised.
Let me rephrase myself – how many successful CEOs come from the investment side?
Monica’s young, but she’s book smart, which isn’t smart at all, but it’s a start. Hell, I should send a copy of her textbook to the regulator. Young Monica has done a couple of years’ half-assed note-taking at a fourth-rate community college and she knows more about this industry than those guys! They have been looking at the prospectus since Christmas and still no positive noises. If it’s all about incentives, then why don’t they see that I could be their route to a real job in this industry? I could fix them up with a back-office role here easy – they’ve just got to tick that goddamned box!
Actually, the problem getting my sure-fire fund product approved is slightly more complex than this, I explain to Monica, who by now clearly worships the ground I walk upon. The product really is quite simple – it holds a floating combination of Integrity’s global equity and global bond funds, and will fiddle the exposures according to a basic formula even I could understand.
However, nobody wants to buy such a straightforward product. So we make lots of noise to sound rigorous and distinctive, and those smart investors feel that they are getting their money’s worth. We tell them that the quant geeks locked up in the dungeons back at Head Office will examine some model of wave patterns in the South Atlantic, will chart the export statistics of countries beginning with the letter V and count the total number of gummy-bears they can collectively fit into their mouths without gagging, before generating the optimised, factor-neutral, min-variance, dynamic asset allocation.
The more bells and whistles we invent, the better, and preferably back-tested to show stunning Madoff-like results.
However, the regulators see all this and take fright at this complexity. So we have to de-mystify it for them in order to gain their approval. Look, we say, it’s basically what you used to know as a balanced fund, but we want to charge a performance fee on it.
So, they ask, why all the crap about wave patterns?
Simply put, they just do not understand this industry. Maybe when I’m 50, and have my millions in the bank and my Ferrari in the driveway, I’ll join the regulator and get them sorted out. They need devious, experienced people like me to help them deal with devious, experienced people like me.
We’ve answered all their questions, we’ve completed all the forms, we’ve sent the fruit hampers over Chinese New Year and we’ve completed hours of tortuous CPD in the form of regulatory seminars. Hell, we even employed an ex-staffer to our compliance team for all the good that’s done us so far.
But now we have a meeting. And with the head regulator herself, such is the gravity of their concern with our new products.
Monica and I sit in the waiting area, ready to go in. “This is probably the most important meeting of your life,” I tell the young intern. “You’re about to meet a real dragon lady, gnarled and twisted with unmerited power, well past her prime but hanging on in a government department reminiscent of the 1980s. This is as close to time travel as you can get.”
As we are ushered into the conference room, I whisper, “On no account, say anything.”
We enter the arena and Monica says something all right: “Hi, Mum.”
William T. Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in "RFP Diary". Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will's adventures continue fortnightly.