An early adopter of the boutique approach
Fisch Asset Management was founded in 1994 by Kurt and Pius Fisch with the aim of focusing on a small range of investment products and offering professional asset management for institutional investors. Kurt Fisch had developed the idea for the business based on his experience as a portfolio manager in institutional asset management at Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (now Credit Suisse) and Head of Asset Management at a private bank.
Most asset management startups at the time were geared to private clients. While a focus on successful active asset management was nothing new, it was not the norm in Switzerland. The inspiration came from hedge fund managers who had made it big in the US. Invest in talented people who act as entrepreneurs and believe in their strategy enough to put everything they have behind it: that was the idea that caught our attention. We wanted to achieve superior performance over the long term through professional, active asset management. It was no small task, but it appealed to our competitive mindset, and it’s something we still derive a lot of enjoyment from today.
Rigorous focus as a recipe for success
Because we focused on a small number of products, we could only target institutional clients, and the margins there are much smaller than with private clients. Institutional asset management was far less developed than it is now. It was still the preserve of the big banks. Hardly anyone had heard of the “boutique asset manager” business model. We were helped by the fact that there was massively less regulation than there is now. It was possible to launch a company with less than CHF 100 million in assets under management back then.
Thanks to the basic concept of maintaining a clear focus and our rigorous efforts to stick to it, we carved out a niche for ourselves over the years in convertible bonds for institutional investors in the German-speaking countries. This brand gave our young, small company lots of visibility and a high profile, which was invaluable in many respects.
Key milestones in the company’s history:
- 1998: decision to pursue stronger growth and hire more staff, launch of two convertible bond funds tailored to the specific needs of Swiss pension funds
- Choice of Germany as our second main market, with especially good performance seen after the dotcom crisis
- Diversification into corporate bonds (high yield and emerging markets) and launch of the multi-asset strategy (including the trend-following programme) we developed for our own pension fund
The corporate culture is all about doing everything we can not only for our clients, but also for our staff. It has continued to evolve as our headcount has grown. In addition to avoiding conflicts of interest, some of the most important aspects are entrepreneurial behaviour, high standards of professionalism (always striving to improve), respect and teamwork. The entire organisation (structure, compensation, all processes) has to follow these principles and develop them over time. This is why we operate with total transparency within the company. Every employee knows everything that’s going on – not just the annual report and meeting minutes, but also salaries and so on. Transparency is essential if you really want your staff to act like entrepreneurs. At the same time, they’re supported as part of the team. This makes it easier to avoid office politics and to spot problems at an early stage when they can be solved.
Development of assets under management
Another cornerstone of our corporate philosophy is the share ownership schemes for our staff. We want them to have a stake in the company’s long-term success. Employees who are also shareholders take a more business-oriented view, and it means that the most important people in the company have the same goals.
Our steady growth since we started out is certainly a strength. It gives the company and its staff a self-confidence that comes in particularly useful in asset management. Our continuity is the result of a corporate strategy geared to the long term.
We believe that Switzerland is an ideal location for boutique asset managers. Its banking industry ensures a plentiful supply of qualified staff, know-how and capital that needs to be invested. The level of qualifications is high by international standards, and good quality of life makes it possible to attract talented people from abroad.