Moving into the financial services industry in October 1987 was something of a baptism of fire for Paul Feeney. He says the first two weeks at NatWest were wonderful, then the stockmarket crash put everything in perspective. Today, as head of international distribution at BNY Mellon Asset Management, he can look back on two crashes but remembers the 1987 crash as being more painful, although the 2000 crash was more prolonged.
“The bear market of 2000 was more a correction of tech stocks and the economy never went into full recession and continued to grow. There was no liquidity crunch, no credit crunch. We are now in a genuine economic recession where markets always forerun the real economy and come out before the economy does.”
Feeney says we should see markets recover in the latter half of 2009 and he believes income will be high on the agenda as investors go back to basics.
“Markets will move away from the financial engineering we have seen and move back to what they were intended to do and that is the reinvestment of dividend. Income is at the heart of this and I believe people are now realising that if they can get capital growth and strong yields, they will be attractive. It is also important to note that income will come both from the East and the West.”
Feeney says one lesson he learned is to stay close to your clients. “It is not about selling products at those times, even though we are here to raise assets, but more about helping clients navigate through those markets. It is crucial as the things people look for are so different in bears and bulls.”
Having gained a degree and a PhD in financial economics, Feeney was working as a university lecturer in 1987 when he realised that many of his students were probably earning more money than he was. He decided to practise what he was preaching.
“I started on the corporate finance side at NatWest, selling caps and collars to two of the biggest Northern textile firms, which was something of an eye-opener.”
Feeney progressed to head NatWest’s investment business in the US before it was sold to Fleet Bank. He ended up at Coutts Group as global marketing and sales director. He says Coutts was as much of a culture shock for him as he was to the firm.”For a half-Irish Mancunian to join was a culture shock for all but it was full of great people and a great brand and I enjoyed helping build the investment business there over the next five years.”
Feeney moved to RBS as chief executive of the group’s branded private banks, before going to Gartmore as head of retail and then head of distribution. “I had been in the investment market for quite some time when I started at Gartmore. Much had been on the wealth management side although in the US I was selling into retail and wholesale. Gartmore was a big player in the retail market although less on the international market. It was a dynamic company, even more so after the management buyout in 2006.”
Feeney played an integral part in the MBO which was backed by Hellman & Friedman. He was also a member of the board and the executive team. He has since moved on to take the role of head of international distribution at BNY Mellon Asset Management.
Feeney says BNY Mellon would happily add to its boutique of boutiques, offering should the opportunity present itself in these markets. “If it was good value and presented a great opportunity and was something we felt could add to the business, then we would look to add that. There are undoubtedly some incredible opportunities in these markets.”
He cites Glyn Jones, chief executive of Coutts and later Gartmore, as his biggest influence during his career. “He was such an influence, both in terms of guidance and mentoring. He was not just a great business leader but also a great human being. The one thing he taught me was the more important you become, the less important you have to be.”
Feeney says he learned a lesson in perspective after taking his young daughter to work with him.
He says: “I tried to make it as fun as possible by introducing her to lots of my colleagues and ensuring she had her favourite honey biscuits. When we got home, she told her mum, ‘All dad does is eat honey biscuits and visit his friends. He’s just like Winnie the Pooh.'” He describes this verdict as “harsh but fair”.
As for the future, Feeney says he makes no long-term plans. “I would hope just to be older and wiser. Man plans and God laughs. You can only plan so far ahead as things change and the market does not often agree with your plans.”
Lives: Guildford, Surrey
Education: Sale Grammar School; International School New Delhi; University of North Wales. First-class degree and PhD in financial economics
Career: April 2008-present – head of international distribution, BNY Mellon Asset Management; head of distribution, Gartmore; chief executive officer, RBS UK Private Banks; global marketing and sales director, Coutts Group; chief executive officer, NatWest Investments USA; deputy marketing director, NatWest Life; lecturer in banking and finance, University of Wales
Likes: Mountaineering, challenges, people who treat others with respect
Dislikes: Arrogance, selfishness, goat’s cheese
Drives: 2002 Volkswagen Polo
Favourite book: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Favourite film: The Life of Brian
Favourite album: The Joshua Tree by U2
Career ambition: To be the best at what I do, to learn lots in the process and to pass it on
Life ambition: To be a decent human being
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Probably falling off more mountains