If life had taken a different turn for HSBC Global Asset management chief executive Andy Clark, he would now be working shifts in air traffic control.
At the age of 19, Clark applied to become an air traffic controller and at the same time applied to Barclays, which was running a trainee scheme. His application to air traffic control was not successful but Barclays snapped him up.
“I wanted to be an air traffic controller because I was a gadget geek and I was attracted to the screens and blipping lights. It was also the responsibility, with people relying on you,” he says.
Instead of controlling airspace, Clark worked his way up from cashing cheques to moving into the stockbroking side at Barclays. This gave him a feel for investment and an insight into the art of management.
“I saw very clearly on the dealing floor, where stress is high, that there are different personalities and how the head of the dealing floor managed them. He believed in his direction and would not bawl anyone out in front of everyone, so there was mutual respect.”
Respect and responsibility are words that pepper Clark’s conversation, particularly when he talks about his current role and being part of the HSBC brand. He joined the group in 2005, having previously worked for DWS, Fidelity and Henderson.
While at Fidelity, where he was UK sales director, Clark’s career could have moved away from financial services. He took a sabbatical to launch a sports betting website but the novelty wore off once he had recharged his batteries.
“I was in a fast-moving industry, I’d got to 30 and thought what else could I be doing? I was tired and needed time to reflect. So I got a sabbatical organised – it was good of Fidelity to allow me to do that. But after three months I was keen to get back,” he says.
Back to the present and Clark feels his step up to chief executive was a seamless transition. Almost one year on, he is enjoying his role in leading the HSBC Global Asset Management’s business strategy and is busy putting his own stamp on things.
“I want us to be more focused as a business in terms of products and play to our strengths. I’m also keen to be more engaged in industry issues because we do have a view.”
Given the backlash against banks that followed the financial crisis and investigations into potential misselling, there is a danger that anything connected to the big banking groups is tarred with a negative brush. For Clark, the HSBC brand is both an asset and a responsibility but he concedes that people do not always understand that different parts of the business make up the brand.
“At dinner parties people come up to me and say ‘what do you do?’ When I say I work at HSBC Global Asset Management they tell me that their daughter needs a mortgage or a credit card,” he says.
In 2010, Clark told Money Marketing that HSBC’s asset management business had suffered from a lack of profile and reputation in the past but that he was working hard to change that. His intention was to focus the business on a three-pronged strategy comprising passive funds, multi-asset funds and actively managed emerging market equity. Three years on, with promotion under his belt, has anything changed?
“At that time we had relaunched our index fund range with a reduced price. That has transformed our position in the market. It’s robust, it has a track record and is well priced.
“Our three-pronged strategy hasn’t changed – our World Select range continues to grow and our passive range has tripled in growth since 2009. There are good companies coming into the passives market and post-RDR there is more of an opportunity. But if people think we can’t add value through active management, that isn’t true. We have our emerging market debt fund and our new frontier fund is heading to size. We are continuing to refine our range and be more specialised in what we offer.”
Clark says that HSBC is known for its expertise in emerging markets. Although investors’ views of these markets have changed over the last few years, Clark feels that asset allocation levels are still underweight for these markets.
“Emerging markets are cyclical but the long-term trend is sound and everyone bought into the story. Allocation levels have crept up but portfolios are still underweight. There is a perception that emerging markets are risky but that is changing and we are seeing the benefit of that.”
Changes to investor attitudes towards emerging markets are minor compared with the changes that the RDR has brought into the investment industry. Clark has been supportive of the RDR from the start, particularly in relation to charging and transparency. But he still has concerns about consumer understanding that platform charges are different to fund management charges.
“Despite fund management charges being transparent, the end price to consumers is different depending on the platform they use and I think its time for consumers to understand platform charges.
“I’m not saying cheap is best, because it isn’t. But we’ve had to be clear on charging and we don’t want to see our funds on platforms where we’re worried about the charges not being understood. That is why we’re careful which platforms we partner with.”
An advice gap is also a worry for Clark post-RDR. “The RDR is a brand new way of doing business and what we see in the fund management business today may not look the same in 18 months’ time.
“I have a big concern about advice. A lot of the gap can be filled by the direct market through things like decision trees and online options which enable people to make informed decisions – not just sticking funds on a website and saying they’re great.”
Andy Clark CV
Born: Taunton, Somerset
Lives: Reigate, Surrey
Education: Farnborough Sixth Form College
Career: 2012-present: chief executive, HSBC Global Assetm Management UK; 2005-2012: managing director, wholesale for UK & Mena, HSBC Global Asset Management; 2002-05: head of UK retail distribution, DWS Investments; 1998-2002: UK sales director, Fidelity; 1995-99: head of UK product sales, HSBC Asset Management; 1992-95: South-west regional sales manager, Henderson; 1987-92: advisory stockbroker, Barclays de Zoete Wedd
Likes: Positivity, politeness, iPad, brevity
Dislikes: Intellectual navel-gazing, celebrity culture
Drives: BMW 3 Series Touring
Books: Jack Reacher and autobiographies
Album: Parade by Matchbox Twenty
Career ambition: To fulfil potential
Life ambition: Enjoy the journey
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Interviewing