«Independence is a big advantage in asset management.»
Twelve Capital Ltd.
Urs Ramseier is a founding partner as well as CEO and CIO of Twelve Capital, which specialises in the insurance sector. The company invests in all of the sector’s asset classes: cat bonds, private insurance-linked securities and insurers’ bonds, private debt and equities. It manages approximately CHF 4 billion, mainly for institutional clients, and employs 50 people in Zurich and London. Before founding Twelve Capital in 2010, Urs worked for Horizon21 building up its ILS business. Prior to that, he worked in credit and equity research and portfolio management at Credit Suisse and Lombard Odier in Zurich, London, Geneva and Hong Kong.
Urs Ramseier, what does success mean to you?
I think success means mastering a seemingly insurmountable difficulty, whether it’s holding onto clients during a period of poor investment returns, carrying on running after the 30th kilometre of a marathon or negotiating a particularly difficult section of the climb up a mountain. What’s more important than success, though, is learning how to cope with failure – if an investment doesn’t perform as expected, a project has to be canned or you have to end a climb just before the summit. This is why I take the time to discuss these situations with the people involved – my team or my friends – and learn from what went wrong.
What was the best career decision you ever made?
Going into finance. I’d started out on a career in academia after graduating and made the move to the private sector relatively late. I don’t think any other industry is as diverse as finance, and I see lots of scope for development here. No two days are the same on the markets, and yet long-term economic and social trends are crucial.
What, in your view, are the success factors in asset management?
The most important success factor in asset management is gaining and keeping clients’ trust. Clients expect us to meet their return targets over three, five or ten years. Particularly in specialised sectors, they don’t manage their own money, they entrust it to an external expert who can manage it actively. Trust plays a key role here, especially when mistakes are made or things don’t go according to plan. That’s when honest, open communication and total transparency are absolutely essential.
What advice would you give to a young person embarking on a career in the asset management industry?
Anyone who thinks they can earn lots of money quickly in asset management has got the wrong idea. Our main job is to look after money people have spent their whole lives saving so they can enjoy financial security when they retire and those who have already retired and are living off the returns. A good asset manager has to achieve high investment returns over a long time horizon or have an excellent rapport with clients, but it’s also vital to keep pace constantly with social and technological shifts because the asset management industry itself is in constant flux (fintech, blockchain and so on).
What makes a good portfolio manager?
Besides specialist know-how, hard work and intellectual curiosity, what counts in portfolio management is experience. A good portfolio manager is one who has managed portfolios during the broadest possible range of market cycles. Like fine wines, they get better with age.
What do you enjoy most in your job?
Having time to discuss investment ideas with clients and colleagues. I learn something new every time. I also get a lot of satisfaction from helping junior staff to develop.
What motivated you to do what you do today?
When we set up our company back in 2010, our main motivations were financial independence and the freedom to make our own decisions. This means that we can take the long-term view in both strategic and investment decisions. As co-owner of an asset management business, I have the same goals as my clients, namely to achieve sustainable investment returns over the long term.
Which country would you live in if you had the choice?
Switzerland. I lived abroad for many years, and I travel a lot as part of my job. There are lots of beautiful and exciting places in the world, but Switzerland offers very high quality of life. It boasts a unique combination of natural beauty, law and order, safety and outstanding education, healthcare and transport infrastructure.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
By spending time with my family. I also get plenty of exercise training for and racing in half-marathons, marathons and mountain runs, which keeps me fit for the skiing and mountaineering tours I do on a regular basis. You have to forget about work when you’re climbing and concentrate on the next step or hold.
What book are you reading at the moment?
“The Future is Asian” by Parag Khanna. Over the past few decades, we have seen Asian countries, especially China, becoming more and more integrated into the global economy. A vast army of cheap workers is now producing goods at a much lower cost than before. In future, however, Asia will also be the biggest force in terms of innovation and financial strength. The hegemony of the West is coming to an end. That said, Asia isn’t a single economic superpower, it’s a very diverse and multi-faceted region.
Do you have a favourite food or drink?
I’m a passionate wine lover. I’m always keen to discover new wines and new producers. There are an incredible number of high-quality wines throughout the world that are made by people who love what they do, but the Rhone Valley and Burgundy in France have the longest tradition of producing first-class wines, and they still set the standard.