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Meera Patel

Matt Davis discovers that Hargreaves Lansdown’s senior investment analyst wants to make the Government an offer it can’t refuse to help close the savings and pension gaps and start to educate consumers on the benefits of financial services

At only 29, Meera Patel is a respected and frequent commentator in the financial media. Like Al Pacino’s character in her favourite film The Godfather, but without the violence, she has progressed quickly via a combination of ambition and hard work – indeed, Patel, who is senior investment analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, admits she is fiercely loyal to the HL “family”. She is keen to make a positive difference to society by pushing the cause of financial education.

Patel started at HL in 2000 and within a year she went to Peter Hargreaves and asked him if there was a future for her at the company. Hargreaves moved her downstairs from the helpdesk to sit 10ft from him, working with Mark Dampier and Ben Yearsley in the analysts’ team.

Dampier has clearly imbued in Patel the importance of engaging with the media. She says the media are incredibly powerful in any business, not just financial services, as it is through them that a business’s voice is heard. When researching its own clients, HL found that 35 per cent got their fund ideas from press recommendations.

Patel says: “The way that Peter has grown the business is through living and breathing it and through an emphasis on marketing. Mark has taught me never to turn a journalist away but he has been successful in the press through telling it like it is and this is an example I follow.”

Her status as senior analyst at HL gives her considerable clout with the fund firms and she say companies are generally pretty quick to get fund managers in front of her if she is concerned about performance.

Patel says she believes absolutely that a fund manager’s personal input is the difference between outperformance and poor performance. When Leon Howard-Spink left Jupiter to go to Schroders recently, she went straight in to talk with replacement manager Cedric de Fonclare to reassure herself. Patel finds most fund managers to be honest with her but is occasionally frustrated by their evasive responses to her questions.

“When I meet a fund manager, I am thinking, how are our clients’ funds being looked after by this person? If something has gone wrong, I want them to tell me why. But with their sales team around them, fund managers sometimes cannot be completely truthful. I wish they could rip up some of the marketing rubbish and be a little more honest with me.”

Patel says Neil Woodford and Anthony Bolton, for example, will be entirely open with her, asking only that the confidentiality of their meetings is respected. She sometimes hears of new fund launches before they happen but says she also relies on Money Marketing to supply her with scoops.

As a young Asian woman in a field typically dominated by white, middle-aged men, she believes that times are changing. “When I first started, I had some people look down on me but people take me more seriously now. I am hard-working and will put my heart and soul into what I do. A lot of that comes down to my upbringing. I think that Peter might even argue that it was an advantage, as he has found Asian people to be hard-working and dedicated and that is true of me.”

Patel does not like pushy salespeople and says women are often more prepared to listen to what a client needs, which makes for better business. Of the IFA scene more generally, Patel says a lot of IFAs tend to end up spreading themselves too thinly but at HL there are dedicated teams for investment, pensions, etc. She expects more consolidation to occur in the industry as other IFAs follow suit.

Her personal investment strategy is highly speculative with no core element to her portfolio. She admits to getting a buzz from buying a racy fund and says the most speculative funds she owns are Jupiter’s emerging European opportunities fund, and First State’s Greater China growth fund. She says her fund selection is partly to do with the job she does and also her optimism towards equities which comes from meeting fund managers.

Patel sees equity income as the continuing strong story for UK investors and IFAs. “I know it is dull and boring but it is still a winner. When I look at the fund managers that have made a real difference for investors over the last five years, it is people like Neil Woodford who come to mind. Emerging markets remain a good story, although with volatility along the way. Hugh Young adds tremendous value on the Aberdeen Far East funds.”

The average IFA’s client is still sat on a great deal of cash and Patel feels education in personal finance is essential for the average adult to have a better understanding of the benefits of investment. She says the public’s lack of understanding of investment is linked to rising debt and it is not enough merely to be enthusiastic about investing as many people think it as too late to do anything about their debts even by the time they leave university.

“Lots of my friends do not have any knowledge of pensions and I find this frightening. I would like to work with the Government to sort the crisis out, which would be tremendously challenging and rewarding. It is not about the money for me but about making a difference in this world and even if I had to go round schools talking to young people about finance, I would do it.”

When not contemplating possible future solutions to the UK savings and pension crisis, Patel runs a half-marathon on an annual basis and travels extensively but, perhaps against the best interests of training for of distance running, her first love is good food and great wine.

Born: October 30, 1975 Nairobi, Kenya.

Lives: Clifton, BristolEducation: University of West of England, BA economics & MSC international business and economics. Financial Planning Certificate, Investment Management Certificate.

Career: 1997-99 Computer Shared Services (Shares registrar), Bristol1999-20000 Hargreaves Lansdown investment helpdesk2000-present Hargreaves Lansdown investment analysts’ teamLife ambition: “To make a difference in the world where I can.”

Hero: Does not have one, believes “anybody can be a hero.”

Likes: Fine wines, good food, travel, long-distance runningDislikes: Pushy salesmenCar: Silver Mercedes V200 KompressorFavourite author: Jane AustenFavourite film: The Godfather – “a dark film with an unpredictable storyline.”

Favourite album: Abba Gold

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