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Profile: How an Aussie lawyer became a global asset management CEO

The man at the helm of the recently merged business Columbia Threadneedle Investments is an industry veteran who has watched how increasing regulation has shaped the markets.

A former board member of the Investment Management Association (now known as the Investment Association) and a governor of the Pension Policy Institute, Campbell Fleming says it is now all about bringing the focus back to the end investor.

“There has been an emphasis on a back to the future shift to focus on the customer after a generation of intermediation and with the politicisation of the markets and a massive amount of regulatory changes,” he says.

Fleming argues regulators should take a “deep breath” in making sure new rules can work in practice before “piling on more regulation”.

“It would be good if policymakers could just step back and see the impact of rules and assess if they are working in the way they intended, rather than constantly changing things for change’s sake,” Fleming says.

“There are unintended consequences of regulation which need to be understood. But ultimately, it comes down to making sure clients know what they’ve been charged and that they understand the product they’re buying. If you disagree with that you shouldn’t be in the industry.”

Before getting into investment management, Fleming trained and worked as a lawyer, first in his home country Australia and later in the UK.

He says: “I got very interested in capital markets and market regulation as a lawyer. Then I got interested in seeing what happened when companies don’t work well.

“I got an opportunity to join Robert Fleming Asset Management as a special adviser to their chairman and chief executive. I thought it’d be a great job to do for two to five years because then I’d be an even better lawyer.”

Fleming became increasingly interested in the investment industy and what it did for clients. He spent 12 years as managing director of JP Morgan’s UK business, before “naturally” ending up at Threadneedle. 

Joining the company as global head of distribution in 2009, Fleming led the business to almost double assets under management in the space of six years from £48.4bn to £95.1bn. He was made chief executive of Threadneedle Investments in 2013.

He now holds the lofty titles of chief executive for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and global chief operating officer at Columbia Threadneedle.

Columbia Threadneedle, which announced its rebrand last week, spans 18 countries and has combined AUM of £324bn.

“We were the 83rd largest asset manager in the world and Columbia Management was the 35th. Put that together and we are now number 30.

“Nowadays clients are much more reassured and want a breadth and depth of choice, service and resource. We are able to provide that as part of a joint global asset management group in a much better way than we could have done just by ourselves.” 

Fleming says the firms started working together more closely ahead of the merger, with Threadneede looking to leverage global growth from US-based Columbia.

This closer relationship saw the launch of the $450m Threadneedle US Contrarian Core Equities Fund in its Luxembourg Sicav, which Fleming says sat “very neatly” alongside the company’s US offering.

“That product got a lot of interest from people outside the US who wanted a different form of exposure to US equities. Now we distribute that in Asia, Europe, UK and Latin America.” 

Fleming says he is looking to grow the merged business organically rather than through acquisitions, but admits he is pushing to gain a greater share of the European market.

“Though we have an active framework about what we are interested in, we are not actively pursuing any acquisitions because my main job is to keep our clients.

“Italy is a good capture, as it has embraced an open architecture model. Some of the other marketplaces in the EU remain closed and too bank-led, whereas Italy probably looks more like the UK and US in terms of independent advice.”

He is conscious there is more to do in terms of encouraging consumers to engage with the investment market. 

“Once the marketing head of Vodafone told me: ’The problem with your industry is the exact opposite of mine: we have got products that everyone wants but don’t really need; you’ve got products that they all need but don’t know they should want.’”

Fleming says it would be “wonderful” if the fund management industry had a better dialogue around understanding what clients need and why they should want their products.

He says: “I don’t know if it is because the language we use that makes us unapproachable. I am Australian so we tend to keep things as simple as possible.”

Five questions

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?  

Work hard and be good to the people that make your job easier.

What has had the most significant impact on advice in the past year?

Pension and long-term investment product reforms. These are an opportunity for asset managers to deliver alternative solutions to the traditional mid- to higher-end annuity market.

What keeps you awake at night?

The sheer weight of regulatory change on the asset management industry, and making sure it is not distracting me from delivering for my clients. 

If I was in charge of the FCA for day I would…

Take a long pause in the regulatory change agenda and make a proper impact assessment of what past reforms are working well and where there are unintended consequences that need to be addressed.

Any advice for new advisers?  

Get as close to your clients as you can so you can really listen to and understand their needs. And never forget it is their hard-earned money.

CV

2015 – present    Chief executive EMEA and global chief operating officer at Columbia Threadneedle Investments

2013 – 2015        Chief executive, Threadneedle Investments

2009-2013          Global head of distribution, Threadneedle Investments

1997–2009         Managing director, head of UK, JP Morgan Asset Management

1995–1997         Officer, Investment Management Regulatory Organisation

1984–1995         Attorney General’s Department Australia, various roles including legal officer, national enforcement counsel, Australian securities commission

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