This month marks a significant milestone for two of the biggest personalities at Schroders as Robin Stoakley and Neil Bridge celebrate their 20th anniversary of working together.
The pair met at Aetna Investment Management in 1988. Stoakley now heads Schroders’ UK retail sales and client service team while Bridge is head of UK sales for the firm which has 7.4bn in retail funds under management. Bridge remembers when they first met. He says: “When we were both at Aetna we had Ford Granadas but I remember Robin telling me that in his previous job he had a Golf GTI 16-valve as his company car and I thought he must be a player.”
Products and strategies have changed considerably in the past two decades. Stoakley says: “There are a whole raft of vehicles around today that you would not have dreamed of back then. Agriculture, emerging market debt, Middle East and hedge funds were all unheard of. Multi-manager, which is an integral player in today’s market, was largely unknown as most people ran portfolio management services.”
One of the most important changes has been the introduction of 3 per cent fund commission to intermediaries, as previously it was usually only 1.25 per cent. Broker bonds also stand out in Bridge’s mind and he points out that Bankhall started out as broker bond manager.
But the pair believe the biggest shift has been the introduction of open architec-ture, an area where Schroders was an early adopter. Stoakley says: “We were prudent, in that we spotted some of the catalysts to move into that market early by watching Skandia’s success, the intro-duction of FundsNetwork and Cofunds and the poor performance of insurance companies’ internal funds.”
Bridge adds: “The collapse of with-profits also left a huge gap in the core of an insurance firm’s offering. We recruited someone in the early part of the decade specifically to cover strategic parties while some people have only made that hire in the past couple of months.”
The pair have worked with a wide range of people. Stoakley pays particular tribute to Jim Cox, who retired from the firm in 1999, describing him as a legend in his own lifetime and a fund manager whose talent was equal to that of Fidelity’s UK guru Anthony Bolton. He also highlights the performance of two other pillars in the fund business in Andy Brough and Denis Clough.
Bridge adds: “There was an air about Richard Buxton when he walked in the place. He is so determined to the point where he almost has the blinkers on, the same could be said of Leon Howard-Spink when he joined from Jupiter.”
Bridge says last year’s sales should see the company in the top echelon of performers but highlights that one of the keys to Schroders’ success has been diversification across a number of funds, such as global property securities and income maximiser.
“It would be a significant concern if one fund ruled the roost. Hero funds are nice to have but I would rather have a spread across nine vehicles to diversify the risk,” says Stoakley.
Bridge says he is glad that Schroders has strong competition in the market. He says: “You need it to elevate everyone’s game. Manchester United do it when they see Arsenal and Chelsea raise their games and there is no difference in the investment industry. Good competition lifts people up and makes everyone steer clear of that comfort zone.”
Stoakley reserves particular praise for one person who he feels has done a good job at a rival fund firm.
He says: “What David Aird has done at Investec with a limited set of clubs has been nothing short of fantastic. I believe he has done a smashing job in his time there.”
He says: “Robin and myself have been here for nearly 20 years but the business has been here for 200 years and anything that has been around that long must be doing something right. It is not always rosy but the group is intent on doing things right and when someone has left we have always replaced them with someone as good, if not better, across the firm.”
Stoakley says: “Our bosses have always backed us too, which is crucial. It is also about the brand, which is phenomenally important.
“We are trusted and respected for having been around and performing for so long and nothing must besmirch that brand and the trust that comes with it.”
But both agree they are unlikely to be at the firm to celebrate their 30th anniversary, although they do not rule out the possibility.
Stoakley says: “We have been together longer than we have been with our wives, although sometimes it feels like a marriage itself.”