"This would inevitably lead to an exodus of these highly qualified jobs"
Head of Intermediaries Switzerland at Pictet Asset Management and Equity Partner
Markus Signer is Head of Intermediaries Switzerland at Pictet Asset Management and Equity Partner. Signer has been with Pictet Asset Management for over 20 years. The economist and lawyer previously worked for eight years at Intrag, the former investment company of the Union Bank of Switzerland (today UBS), for which he also worked in Luxembourg and Italy.
Mr. Signer, you have been working in Swiss asset management for your entire career - almost three decades. What have been the biggest upheavals for the asset management industry during this time?
Three developments come to mind. The first and most important big bang was certainly the opening of the distribution channels with the introduction of an open fund architecture. This happened in Switzerland in 1998 and was the actual birth of today's distribution business. Other formative developments were the shift from retrocession-based distribution to an advisory model and the strong growth of indexed investments. The last two upheavals led to a fitness cure for the industry and forced asset managers to focus on their strengths. Looking back, it can be said that not only the clients but also the industry benefited and still benefits from these developments. Swiss asset management had to increase its quality and today stands very strong in international comparison.
Do you miss what is called "the good old days"?
No, there are no "good old days". Asset management is a very international and transparent business with low entry barriers and therefore extremely competitive. The developments I mentioned have always been challenges and at the same time opportunities. It is important to remain vigilant and agile. Pictet Asset Management has been able to continuously expand its assets under management and gain market share. From this point of view, the present has always been and still is the best time for us.
Pictet, actually a private bank, has become one of the top Swiss asset managers: What were the main factors that made this possible?
Independence from the private bank and entrepreneurial freedom. We built Pictet Asset Management as an independent company from the very beginning. Our goal was to acquire external clients and to achieve our own economic raison d'être as quickly as possible. This can only be achieved by providing the services that clients need and doing so with above-average quality.
Is it correct to say that wealth management can benefit in terms of investment competence if asset management also takes place in-house?
I think so. Asset managers have a very disciplined and process-oriented investment style, where strategic goals are more important than tactical ones. This culture can definitely enrich and complement the investment expertise in wealth management. Moreover, the private bank has access to all our capabilities and uses them if they meet the requirements.We also note that in certain markets, wealth management benefits from the visibility of our thematic funds and potential private banking clients perceive Pictet as an asset manager first.
Nevertheless, private banking and asset management are two different cultures. How do you establish a collaborative style and transfer of know-how?
First, we treat our private bank as what it is to us: an extremely important and loyal client. We have a specialised sales team for the private bank, which maintains a regular exchange at all levels and delivers a first-class service. At the macro level, the economists of the two business lines are in regular dialogue. We also allow internal mobility of staff from one business line to the other. This exchange of talent and specialists has increased significantly in recent years and is very enriching for both areas.
Switzerland wants to lead in asset management, but as a small country, access to professionals and talent is limited: How do you manage access to talent at Pictet?
We are an attractive employer with flat hierarchies, a transparent and direct feedback culture and we enable our employees to take responsibility early on and to implement their own investment or business ideas. We promote a strong entrepreneurial culture. In addition, we are flexible with regard to the place of work and, on the investment side, offer workplaces in Zurich, London, Milan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo in addition to Geneva. In this respect, the talent pool for us is global.
As a production location for asset management, Switzerland still has a lot of upside potential: What prerequisites would still have to be met?
I think Switzerland already has very good location factors with excellent universities and colleges, an open and flexible labour market and a very high quality of life. In addition, Switzerland has both a large institutional and a very large private investor market.However, we must ensure that products managed in Switzerland can also be offered in our sales markets, i.e. in Europe and Asia. The delegation of portfolio management to Switzerland must remain possible for funds and institutional clients domiciled abroad. Otherwise, this would inevitably lead to an exodus of these highly qualified jobs from Switzerland.
Pictet focused on sustainability very early on with its water fund: What was the trigger at that time to occupy the topic?
Pictet Asset Management was already managing portfolios with sustainability criteria in the 1990s. In this respect, the launch of the water fund was merely the implementation of the sustainability idea in a theme fund. The fundamental importance of water as a raw material, combined with its increasing scarcity, were decisive factors. The idea came from an analyst at the private bank who managed a corresponding strategy for clients. Today, this employee heads the very successful thematic fund division at Pictet Asset Management.
How do you live sustainability yourself?
Mindfully, but without fanaticism. I pay attention to my carbon footprint and prefer public transport. I drive considerably less than 10,000 km a year. As a hobby chef and restaurant guest, I pay attention to seasonal and local products from sustainable production.