In conversation with the women in portfolio management

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With International Women’s Day (IWD) coming up on 8 March, we asked Channel Capital how they're celebrating and to share some of the stories that make women successful. We're glad we did. 

This year’s theme is ‘break the bias’, and Channel Capital has asked the following funds management professionals what IWD means to them. With a look at past and present experiences in the professional world, they provide perspectives on the path to achieving equality and change, and each discusses a key investment theme for the year ahead.

  • Deputy chief investment officer at Jamieson Coote Bonds, Kate Samranvedhya, 
  • Bell Asset Management senior global equities analyst, Nicole Mardell, and 
  • Revolution Asset Management's associate portfolio manager, Lucie Bielczykova.

Kate Samranvedhya, Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Jamieson Coote Bonds

This year’s theme for IWD is #BreakTheBias. I am still shocked to hear news of court cases where women in equivalent roles to men are paid much less. This bias has to stop. 

From the employer’s perspective, the legal risk from unjustifiable unequal gender-bias compensation has risen remarkably. Hopefully, these legal examples will set the course towards more equal pay for women. 

Another bias I see often is in the family home. In Asia, I’ve interviewed many women who are looking for a less time-consuming job and are willing to accept slightly lower pay, in order to have time to look after their children, with very few male candidates responding the same way. The expectation of gender roles at home is still tilted towards women for household and child-rearing responsibilities, at least in Asia. In a way, modern fathers can help shape the future of their daughters by helping their wives at home.

In many shapes and forms, various people motivate me, mentor me, hand me opportunities to shine, give me challenges to test my grit. In hindsight, the ebbs and flows of my journey have all been a lesson. This year, my lesson is learning to lean on other people for help, even when I don’t think I need it. I feel grateful when help materialises from all directions, sometimes from the most unexpected people and places.

The social construct on women’s equality has evolved to the point where striving towards gender equality is the current cultural goal. What women can do as a collective is to raise our standards to the opportunities that are being handed to us. In core values, this means showing up with gratitude, preparation and passion. 

At the early stage of my career, my boss taught me to prepare like an understudy. In theatre, an understudy is a performer who learns the role of the leading actor/actress in a play, to be as good as the lead and be able to perform in a short notice in their absence. That’s the level of preparation and passion I’d like to see in the younger generations. One can never know when the opportunity will present itself. This mentality will carry through to whatever change or opportunity we pursue.

“The social construct on women’s equality has evolved to the point where the strive towards gender equality is the current cultural goal. What women can do as a collective is to raise our standards to the opportunities that are being handed to us.”

Our key theme for 2022 for all asset classes is to move up to the highest quality and liquidity strata in each asset class. Two key developments shape this conviction. The first one is that central banks around the world stop expanding their balance sheets. The US Federal Reserve is also considering Quantitative Tightening. Central banks are going to fight inflation by reversing the stimulus they put in place during the pandemic. They are taking back the easy-flowing excess liquidity in the system, in global synchronisation. The unwinding of liquidity flow can lead to higher volatility and will expose vulnerabilities in lower quality assets. The second development is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We are thinking beyond a simple direct exposure to Russia. By the sheer fact of higher geopolitical risk and higher volatility, emerging market assets should require a higher premium. The implication of cutting Russia out of SWIFT also heightens liquidity risk and the risk of oil supply disruption remains to be seen.

Nicole Mardell, Senior Global Equities Analyst, Bell Asset Management

IWD is a wonderful way to acknowledge the contribution of women in society and the progress that has been made towards equality. However also a reminder, while we have come a long way, there is still much work to do to ensure work cultures are truly inclusive and allow women the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Regarding my career journey, I have had a wonderful mentor who is a senior figure in the superannuation and investment industry. He is currently Chair of the Investment Committee for a large Industry Super Fund. We first crossed paths when I started on the Graduate Program at Colonial Ltd back in the late 1990s. He was particularly supportive in creating an opportunity for me in London, where I started my investment career, and through various career moves in that market whilst we were both working over there. His mentorship has continued since moving back to Melbourne, over ten years ago now. He has continued to be a valued influence, where in turn, he has reached out to me for my thoughts especially as it relates to women in the workforce, what it means to be a female working in the global investment management industry in particular, and how the industry could move forward.

“I have had a wonderful and supportive mentor who is a senior figure in the superannuation and investment industry, with his mentorship continuing for over 20 years now.”

I believe one step towards achieving equality can be through flexible working conditions as a standard, for both women and men. It also goes without saying, equal pay is also paramount to ensure equality. We need to continue to strive for work to be more accessible for women, and now is the time for change. Given the last two years of lockdowns, we’ve proven flexible working conditions can improve productivity and be a positive benefit for both men’s and women’s wellbeing. We now need to ensure we keep moving this forward.

One key investment theme that is top of mind for fund managers right now is inflation and interest rates. Inflation is coming in every direction, creating a spike that hasn’t been seen for a very long time and as a result, is bringing the investment discussion back to style where we could see a significant divergence between value and growth. Interest rate expectations are keeping valuations front of mind for investors. These two are not mutually exclusive though, nor is their consideration when it comes to investing.

At Bell Asset Management, our investment style is ‘Quality’ at a reasonable price, and we feel this will do incredibly well in the current environment. Our focus on quality and company fundamentals, together with our discipline on valuations to ensure we don’t overpay for that quality, means we are well placed to navigate through a high-inflationary environment. We continue to find lots of opportunities and are optimistic about our strategies continuing to provide robust risk-adjusted returns for investors.

Lucie Bielczykova, CFA, Associate Portfolio Manager, Revolution Asset Management

IWD provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of all the incredible women around us. Our society has made significant progress towards gender equality across education, workplaces and boardrooms over the past few decades. IWD gives us a platform to celebrate this and to encourage more young rising women to follow and thrive! But it also reminds us that there is still some way to go, and that equity and inclusion aren’t normalised in many parts of the world.

I have been very fortunate to have been supported by strong female and male role models in every step of my career journey. My mum and grandma have been my biggest supporters and role models. Mum raised me and my two sisters on her own, juggling family and small business to provide for us while overcoming all the challenges life threw at her. We didn’t have much but she did whatever she could to support my education and junior athlete career (I was once a competitive dancer!). She taught me the value of dedication and persistence (and accounting basics), while my grandma - having grown up in the Czechoslovakian post-war era − brought perspective and taught me modesty and kindness. These lessons have been pivotal for my career. If it wasn’t for their support, I wouldn’t be who I am today and almost certainly wouldn’t have gone across the world to pursue higher education and a career.

Today, I am surrounded by strong male and female role models at Revolution and Channel who empower me every day. I have had amazing mentors in my professional life who have been willing to guide me and pass on their valuable experiences. They have taught me to always speak up, never be afraid to ask questions and have encouraged me to make decisions, which allowed me to grow.

Changing the equality mindset starts with awareness. Everyone can do their part by raising conversations about gender equality. While we have come a long way, there is still a lot of progress to be made even here in Australia, particularly in the areas of economic participation and opportunity. Women spend almost three times as much time taking care of children each day compared to men, account for two-thirds of carers for the older and disabled and on average retire with just over half of financial resources available to men*. So, talk to the people around you, empower women in your organisations and remember that achievements can take many forms - career-related or personal – to ‘break the bias’!

“I have had amazing mentors who have been willing to guide me and pass on their valuable experience. Today, I am surrounded by strong male and female role models at Revolution and Channel who empower me every day.”

This year, with the prospect of higher inflation and rising interest rates around the world making investors nervous, investors should be looking to shift into floating-rate investments to protect their capital. Most traditional investments are set to struggle over the year ahead as rates rise and traditional bonds, equities (particularly growth stocks), infrastructure and property which enjoyed the ride down (falling interest rates) will face headwinds as rates increase. Investors should be looking to alternatives that can shield them from the adverse impact of inflation and rising rates, such as private debt. Defensive private debt actually benefits from rising rates, as the rising base rate adds to the yield while protecting investor capital. 

Kate Samranvedhya
Deputy Chief Investment Officer
Jamieson Coote Bonds
Lucie Bielczykova
Associate Portfolio Manager
Revolution Asset Management
* Australian Human Rights Commission, Face the facts: Gender Equality 2018.

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