«A successful person is one who can put together a good team.»
UBS Asset Management
Charlotte Bänninger is Head of Fixed Income at UBS Asset Management. She is responsible for investments totalling more than CHF 260 billion in global fixed-income and money market strategies, runs the Swiss fixed-income business and is a member of UBS Asset Management Switzerland’s executive management. With 31 years’ experience in the investment business, Charlotte played a key role in building up the bank’s CHF bond platform with an investment volume in excess of CHF 30 billion.
Charlotte Bänninger, what is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career to date?
It was in 2000/2001, when the team leader in charge of Fixed Income Switzerland left out of the blue, and I suddenly went from being a portfolio manager to head of the whole team. I wasn’t prepared for this management role and I was really thrown in at the deep end, so to speak. It was a huge challenge but I quickly found that I enjoyed the job very much. This was also the period of the terror attacks on 11 September 2001, their impact on the financial markets, and the collapse of Swissair. These events were a stress test that we passed overall because we already had sound risk management systems in place and weren’t holding any Swissair bonds in our portfolios. I learned a great deal in a short space of time and my confidence grew. Those experiences are also valuable in my current role as global Head of Fixed Income. The challenges we face today are fundamentally the same. We’re responsible for investment performance and good performance hinges on good processes and having the right people in the right positions. It’s also important to challenge your own people and this is where my years of experience as a portfolio manager come in handy. Risk management is becoming ever more crucial and we’re well placed in this respect thanks to our systems and of course our cooperation with the risk department.
What are your most important leadership principles?
Even if I do say so myself, I’m good at dealing with people and always afford everyone a great deal of respect. Asset management is a people business. If you know your people well and understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie, you’re better placed to run your business. A successful person is one who can put together a good team. If every member is an alpha, it doesn’t work. You need team players with a range of different qualities to create a good mix of characters and talents. As a team leader, I want to be a role model and that builds trust. On top of this, a transparent, clear-cut management style is indispensable. You can’t buy your colleagues’ trust, you have to earn it. Having that trust makes it easier to discuss difficult subjects. If you address critical issues, you’ll find a solution that’s right for everyone involved in the end. At the same time, it’s not just what I say that’s important, it’s how I say it. I know from experience that my staff see me as firm but fair.
Which values underlie your day-to-day actions, decisions and plans?
Honesty is one of the things I care about most of all. I want people to be themselves and not put on a front. Being prepared to go that little bit further than the others is also important, as is believing in what you do. If you put passion into your work, you’ll enjoy success sooner or later. This is as true in finance as it is for a hairdresser or a restaurant owner. With young professionals especially, it’s very important to get a feeling for whether they’re putting their heart into their work or just doing a job to get paid.
What do you enjoy most in your job, what least?
In my role as global Head of Fixed Income, I really enjoy working with people from a variety of regions and cultures. Asian colleagues behave differently in meetings to Australians, Americans react differently to Europeans and the Swiss never say anything (laughs)! In my experience, a melting pot of temperaments and cultures often gives rise to the best solutions. Diversity goes way beyond just male and female, it’s about including different age groups and educational backgrounds as well. When I applied for a job in portfolio management over 30 years ago, there were no women in that role at Union Bank of Switzerland, as it was then called. Years later, when I took charge of the team, things had changed in this regard. I’ve received more and more job applications from women over time, which I see as a highly positive development. I’ve noticed that there are clear advantages to having both men and women on the team. As a rule, women are better communicators. Men, on the other hand, like to immerse themselves in analysis, particularly in fixed income. The better the communication within the team, however, the more dynamic it can be and this can have a positive effect on investment performance. One of the things I enjoy most about my job, of course, is dealing with financial markets and the challenges they present. There’s a lot of unpredictability and you can’t plan for every eventuality. This means that you have to be flexible and creative, which is another reason I enjoy my job so much. I also like the fact that success can be clearly measured in the investment business, and a sort of meritocracy determines who succeeds. What do I enjoy least? Sometimes, meetings feel like we’re just going through the motions and probably wouldn’t lose out if we held them less often.
What would you like to ask the investor Warren Buffett if you had the chance?
I’d be interested to know what motivated him to become a big investor, what made him happy about the job that he’s been so successful at doing. He’s in his 80s now. He’s probably got a lot to say about how the art of investing has changed over the years. I’d love to hear it.
Is there anything you think the authorities and politicians could do better?
It was understandable that stricter regulation would be introduced after the financial crisis. However, we keep finding that representatives of the authorities don’t have a sufficient grasp of some of the finer points, as a result of which they tend to be sceptical about our proposals. I’d like to see more people on the side of the authorities who have a better understanding of the financial sector. That would allow us to have more purposeful discussions and it would reduce the number of misunderstandings. Politicians should also address financial market issues more objectively rather than letting party politics get in the way. With this in mind, it would be good to find a platform that facilitates this kind of exchange, for example on the topics of state and private pensions.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
I’m the sort of person who can unwind very easily away from work. For example, I don’t read any e-mails right before bedtime, they can wait until the next morning. In my position, I have to be contactable at all times for important matters but I never send e-mails to my staff over the weekend. It goes without saying that this only applies when the markets are operating “normally”. Sports are also a key part of my work/life balance. Spending a few hours on the golf course, focusing on the game but also being close to nature, is a great way to relax, as is a long hike.
Who would you like to have lunch or dinner with?
Michelle Obama. I was impressed by how she took to the role of First Lady. She’s very intelligent and would probably be in with a chance of becoming President herself one day if she were to put herself forward. I also find her relationship with her husband impressive. Meeting her would be something special.
What is your favourite food?
That would be pasta – home-made, of course.
What is your favourite travel destination?
Travel is a hobby of mine. I’ve visited more than 65 countries. I’ve always had a fascination for Asia. Whether it’s Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos, I always feel at home there. The people there have a warm-heartedness that really appeals to me. The last country where I had great experiences was Bhutan. When you get home from places like that, you’re made aware of how good we have it here in Switzerland and what a privilege it is to be born and grow up here.