«How you go about achieving your results has become much more important.»
Head Swiss Balanced Strategies, UBS Asset Management
Vincent Duval has worked at UBS Asset Management in Zurich since 2005 and is currently Head Swiss Balanced Strategies. He is a member of the global Investment Committee and responsible for the performance of Swiss balanced multi-asset funds and mandates – in particular the management of the UBS Vitainvest Sustainable Funds, one of the largest families of investment funds for Pillar 3 retirement savings in Switzerland.
Vincent Duval, what does success mean to you?
As a Portfolio Manager, success is first and foremost synonymous with good performance in relation to a clearly defined investment objective. Achieving an investment objective without taking on too much risk and keeping portfolio volatility in line with the customer’s risk capacity can also be seen as successful investing. This requires a disciplined investment process and intelligent portfolio construction. Much like competing in the decathlon as an athlete, managing multi-asset portfolios involves a mix of different disciplines. It’s all about using a wide range of information and parameters to find the best possible combination of asset classes. Additional key factors have been integrated into fundamental analysis in recent years, notably sustainability criteria. How you go about achieving your results has thus become much more important. If we can deliver similar or even better performance with a smaller carbon footprint and good sustainable investment ratings, we can call that a success.
What was the best decision you have taken in your career?
My best decision was definitely seeking out a career in active portfolio management. It wasn’t easy, especially since our theory training always stressed the efficiency of financial markets. I felt like I was entering into a profession where success was almost impossible. Working in trading right at the start of my career really helped. It taught me to make decisions and face the consequences.
What is it that motivates you?
I’m passionate about financial markets, and I try to anticipate future events. I also find analyzing investor behavior interesting. My colleagues and I attempt to understand what’s going on in investors’ minds by studying vast amounts of financial news. On top of this, I find any work that allows me to create something new especially rewarding. Developing a new multi-asset strategy with a sustainable approach is a good example.
What importance do you attach to social media?
Less is more. Social media have become an indispensable communication tool in both my private and professional lives, but I use them with care and limit the amount of time I spend on them. We’re bombarded with so much information nowadays that it’s getting harder to digest it all, and the quality sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. I’m also concerned that more and more people are only getting information via social media, and thus only hearing the filtered information that they already agreed with.
What do you enjoy most in your job, what least?
The two things I like most are interacting with interesting people and the diversity of my job. I’m lucky enough to work in an international environment with some very talented specialists. I view our company’s diversity as a plus point, and I think it leads to better results. What I don’t like so much is the sort of paperwork that has little to do with investments or customers.
Which problems should politicians and authorities urgently address?
The demographic trend in Switzerland and the fact that bonds can hardly be expected to pay any interest anymore are problematic and mean that a genuine, sustainable reform of our pension system – especially occupational pensions – is urgently needed. As unpopular as it may be, among other things, the conversion rate needs to be cut in order to reduce the growing burden on future generations. It’s clear that, if things don’t change, private retirement savings will become even more important. This will further accentuate the inequalities in our society.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
I’m good at switching off and keeping my private life and my work very clearly separate. I have two young children, and I don’t talk about work much when I’m with my family. I try to get all my work done before the weekend. I go jogging at least twice a week, which allows me to clear my head and stay in shape. My office colleagues and I regularly go for a run together in our lunch break, which has strengthened our team spirit.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in asset management today or your younger self?
If you have the right tools to get a grip on new technologies, such as statistical or programming skills, that’s certainly a good start. Of course, an interest in economic relationships and politics is also essential. It’s important for a portfolio manager not just to sit in front of a screen analyzing data, but also to be capable of giving a presentation that grabs people’s attention or making a good impression when visiting a customer. You need an entrepreneurial flair, and you shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
What book are you reading at the moment?
I try to make time to read books that aren’t all about investment but give me a deeper understanding of the world around us. I got Stefan Thurner’s book “Die Zerbrechlichkeit der Welt” (The Fragility of the World) for Christmas. Climate change and divisions within society are destabilizing the global balance. The book explains how science and big data might help us to avert the next major crisis. The future is in our hands! At the same time, of course, these overarching themes are also relevant to investment.
What do you do on a short journey?
I like to travel by train around Switzerland, but I’ve unfortunately had less chance to do it since the pandemic started. The advantage of taking the train is that there aren’t many distractions, so I can concentrate and think about things with a certain amount of distance. Naturally, I also like to look out of the window at our beautiful landscapes, and I sometimes listen to music.
What background picture do you have on your phone?
A panorama of the Alps I took at 3,300 meters above sea level at the summit of Mont Fort in the Four Valleys region of Valais. It’s a place of lofty peaks and spectacular natural landscapes, and they remind me that it’s the simple things that bring the most joy in life.
What famous person would you like to meet?
I don’t really buy into the cult of personality. I think team spirit is much more valuable. That said, I do understand and sometimes share the fascination for people like Elon Musk, a visionary who’s sure to leave his mark on our era. He does of course tend to polarize opinions. I’d like to find out more about him.