Category: Views


On 1 January 2024, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) expanded to include Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Egypt, and Ethiopia. A sixth new member, Argentina, chose to withdraw at the last minute.

One assumes the acronym won’t be changing to reflect the new members, as BRICSUISEE certainly doesn’t sound as catchy. But was BRICS ever a useful term for a disparate group of countries, whose only real bond is being arguably the largest emerging economy in their respective geographies?

The original aim of the bloc was to promote the economic interests of the five founding nations. In reality, however, internal conflicts have hindered BRICS’ impact, such as the ongoing border dispute between India and China. A further point of contention between member countries is their varying closeness with the West. Brazil and India nurture these relationships, in stark contrast to the other BRICS members. In fact, Argentina cited its desire to strengthen international ties as a reason against joining BRICS.

From an economic perspective, BRICS appears to have achieved relatively little. Nevertheless, 23 countries formally applied to join. Saudi Arabia and UAE bring both geographical diversity and wealth to the bloc, while South Africa’s appetite for increasing African representation is whetted thanks to Ethiopia and Egypt’s membership.

For what self-identifies as a primarily economic bloc, it seems that the selection criteria were somewhat more focused on China’s international relations. The expansion has been described by international commentators as a diplomatic victory for the country, and indeed, all incoming BRICS members have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative reinforcing China’s connection to the five new entrants.

Despite some Western concerns about the BRICS expansion, there have been few alarm bells. This could be attributed to BRICS’ short list of achievements so far or to the fact many of its decisions are politically steered. The latter may be a detriment in the eyes of the West when it comes to selecting new members, but it is a positive when considering BRICS’ own internal tensions.

These very reasons are why the usability of the term BRICS has been restricted. With its expansion, the acronym will now represent less than half of the constituent members. The key challenge is whether the bloc is able to maintain a sense of unity in the face of this expanding membership and a likely increase in diverging views.

Indeed, many investment funds that were launched as BRICS-focused have since closed or been merged into broader Emerging Markets portfolios, a trend that whilst taking place prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was certainly also consolidated by it.

So is BRICS still, or was it ever, a useful term when talking about emerging or developing economies?

Language is a constantly evolving medium and as ‘archaic’ terms like third world gave way to developing or emerging economies, so too do more modern acronyms fall out of favour. Unless the expanded BRICS bloc is able to deliver coherent policy decisions across its member base, it may well have run its course. For those commenting on emerging markets, it may be advisable to minimise the use of the term BRICS until they have a better indication of what this new iteration actually represents.

In his latest blog for CAIA Association, a global professional body for investment management, Niels shares valuable insights for asset managers facing the challenges of a competitive market. He emphasises the need for innovation in fundraising strategies, leveraging technology and data analytics. He also highlights the importance of updating marketing techniques to effectively attract new commitments and improve inflows.

You can read the full article here on CAIA’s website.

 

Miles Donohoe, Managing Director

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Diaz won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Trust, among other accolades. It’s set in and around the early 20th century in the build up to, and consequence of, the Wall Street crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression. It’s character rather than event-led but the structure is very clever, and quite unique, with four sections all telling different parts of a story. I can’t say anymore as it would ruin the surprise – but well worth reading!

Duncan Lamb, Director, Head of Property

Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse

An unexpected invite throws the Christmas plans of Bertie Wooster and his long- suffering valet, Jeeves, into disarray. Rather than the Winter sun of Monte Carlo, Jeeves and Wooster find themselves spending Christmas at Skeldings Hall, much to the disappointment of Jeeves, home of Lady Wickham, and her daughter Bobbie, the object of Bertie’s desire. Also in attendance is Sir Roderick Glossop, father of Bertie’s former fiancé, Honoria, and Tuppy Glossop, he who tricked Bertie into falling into the swimming pool at the Drones Club.

Priti Dey, Client Director

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

I am currently reading Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford to get myself in the Christmas spirit. It was a classic published in 1932, and the person at the bookstore described it as ‘like Bridgeton on Netflix’ but Christmas. It is a humorous and satirical work that explores several characters’ lives and romantic entanglements during the Christmas season.

Charlotte Walsh, Director

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, which describes the life of a woman in 1950s/60s America, her career as a chemist which takes an unexpected turn as a TV chef as she finds herself as a single mother. It charts her struggles against sexism in the workplace, maintaining a career whilst also looking after her daughter and being a forward-looking role model for her, as well as how she deals with the loss of her partner.

Toby Bromige, Client Manager

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

A fantastic and very amusing book which is part of the wider Discworld series. No author, with perhaps the exception of Wodehouse, has the ability to observe the petty grievances and grumbles of life and make you laugh about it.

Noor Fatima, Client Assistant

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

From the devil and his entourage wreaking havoc in the Soviet capital, to the mysterious ailments haunting Pontius Pilate in Roman Jerusalem, this novel brings the supernatural of biblical sorts alive in the form of twisted tricksters haunting the people of Moscow and, amidst the chaos, meddling in an unfinished love story. It is a fun, politically daring, strange, historical, fast-paced, fantastical read to end the year on.

Maisy Saville, Data & Insights Analyst

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

American Dirt is a heartwarming declaration to the unbreakable bonds of family. This gripping novel follows a bookseller and her young son as they embark on a dangerous journey from Mexico to the US, to escape cartel violence. This deeply moving tale combines heart-pounding suspense with a profound exploration of human resilience and hope, and is one that you won’t be able to put down.

Lodovico Sanseverino, Associate Director

Kennedy 35 by Charles Cumming

I will be reading Kennedy 35, the third instalment of Charles Cumming’s Box 88 series. I really like reading old-fashioned spy novels à la John le Carré, where sleuthing was being done by agents on the field, rather than the Big Brother-ish drones and other eyes in the skies alike. Cumming’s Box 88 series is particularly enjoyable because, whilst set in our days and age, the adventures of the protagonist, Lachlan Kite, are based on the consequences of the covert activities he carried out in his youth amid real events that shaped the world’s history. In this way, the author is able to deliver two stories in one book with a distinguishing narrative non-fiction feel, which is another favourite genre of mine.

Elen Iorwerth, Client Executive

Expectation by Anna Hope

Based in Haggerston, Expectation follows a trio of women as they navigate their expectations – of themselves and each other. The book jumps between the characters’ mid-twenties and mid-thirties, following their friendships, relationships, careers, and family lives. Although the three of them are flatmates at an early stage, it’s an emotional story of their lives growing apart and back together again.

Sarah Toubman, Client Manager

The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I recently enjoyed reading The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes by Suzanne Collins ahead of going to watch the film. The Hunger Games was one of my favourite series growing up, so it was a fun nostalgia trip!

Zana Kurshumlija, Client Executive

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

This month, I have been leaning into the winter chill with Ismail Kadare’s ‘The Palace of Dreams,’ a captivating novel that plunges you into a mysterious world of a bureaucratic dream-collecting institution. Set during the 19th century against the snowy landscapes of an unnamed Ottoman city, the books themes of isolation, introspection and political allegory make it a perfect choice to end the year on and offers an engaging and thought-provoking escape into a realm where dreams hold extraordinary power.

Julian shares key insights from JPES Partners’ 2024 Asset Owner research, offering an insight into asset owner priorities and allocation strategies. This invaluable information provides a roadmap for industry professionals looking to stay ahead of the curve in an ever-evolving market landscape.

Drawing on over three decades of experience in asset management, he shares insights into creating messaging that enhances marketing materials and positions firms as thought leaders in the investment sector.

Listen to the full podcast on YouTube; Spotify; Apple Podcasts

For JPES, this time of year also follows the publication of our asset owner research, where we survey asset owners, responsible for £2 trillion of assets under management across the investment spectrum including DB and DC pension schemes, wealth managers, fund platforms, investment consultants, fiduciary managers and insurers, about their asset allocation priorities for the year ahead.

As we review some of our key findings, and what they might mean for our clients, we can see where our research dovetails with current headlines. For example, as 70% of respondents tell us they are rethinking their investment strategies, particularly in relation to risk, we read a growing number of articles about the increasing influence of geopolitical risk, the effect it is having on corporates as they hire diplomats to advise them about ensuing crises, and how investors are asking for EM ex China funds and looking to other countries to reduce their exposure to this particular risk.

Similarly, our respondents told us that ESG is less top of mind than it was a year ago and reading the FT’s asset management annual round up, its second theme of the year is, “The ESG backlash.” Although this headline pertains more to the US than the UK and Europe, it was just a month ago that the same paper reported that UK investors were pulling money out of responsible investment funds, “at a record rate.” It is fair to say that as market conditions have become more challenging, it is an area of investment now under increasing scrutiny and regulation to ensure it can deliver for investors.

A year ago our research told us that demand for private markets was increasing. Today, with exit options for private equity more challenging, we see this area of the market has become more nuanced, as investors consider private credit and infrastructure. It remains an interesting time for the private / public markets in the UK and in Europe. In the UK, particularly as we head towards a General Election, the success of the UK economy, which has traditionally been tied to the success of the City, may become a key part of the campaign trail. So far questions remain over the efficacy of the Mansion House reforms, both for pensions and for UK companies. A recent Financial News headline reads, “A dam has to burst…” as bankers hope for a 2024 recovery. We have to hope that indeed the flow of capital returns to the UK.

Finally 2023 has seen Bonds return to favour with both institutional and retail investors as interest rates moved higher, although the jury remains out on for how long and whether inflation has been tamed or not. Our research shows asset owners plan to allocate particularly to Investment Grade and High Yield Bonds over the next 12 months, a sign that whilst the asset class is back, investors still need to be discerning as uncertainty looks set to remain.

For further information on the JPES Asset Owner research, “Navigating a new investment landscape: Asset owner priorities in 2024,” please contact our Head of Investment, Matt Rogers – matt.rogers@jpespartners.com

The use of social media in corporate communications is deeply entrenched in today’s world, with very few likely to dispute the crucial role that such technologies play in a firm’s communications strategy.

However, as ways of communicating via social media as well as the platforms in use themselves begin to shift, it will become more and more important to ensure that social media and corporate communications strategies remain aligned.

As X—formerly known as Twitter—becomes an increasingly controversial platform, LinkedIn has only grown in popularity, especially amongst younger audiences. January 2023 data shows that 60% of LinkedIn users are between the ages of 25 and 34. Meanwhile, in a November 2023 interview with FastCompany, Suzi Owens, senior director of corporate communications at LinkedIn, shared that “Gen Z is networking the most on the platform, making the most connections month-over-month,” based on internal company data.

While alternatives to Twitter, such as Threads, Mastodon, and Bluesky, have recently materialised, none of the three has yet emerged as a clear winner.

As a result, it is all the more important to ensure that a brand’s LinkedIn profile works in lockstep with its larger communication strategy, beyond its original employer branding purposes.

From an external communications perspective, LinkedIn can be an essential tool for interested parties to learn about relevant company moves, such as new hires, product launches, and firm expansion.

LinkedIn can also be a useful tool from an internal communications point of view, as in-sync social and traditional media strategies can help welcome new hires or celebrate promotions, for example.

As such, LinkedIn is a platform on which a firm’s internal and external communications strategies intersect, and the use of such channels should take into account the needs and limitations of both communications teams.

One of the most crucial—and often overlooked—elements in aligning communications and social media strategies on such announcements is timing. Arranging a dedicated LinkedIn post to directly follow a broader corporate announcement to the press can maximise audience reach, and also recognise new and existing employees for their accomplishments.

However, LinkedIn is an increasingly personalised platform, where individuals may not always be posting as representatives of a company. Thus, it is important not only to align social media and corporate communications strategies with each other, but also across all areas of a business. Employees from all business areas should be invited to join conversations about communications and social media strategies, as well as welcomed to actively contribute to them to enhance their individual, business and employer brand awareness synergistically.

Becoming comfortable working with relevant communications professionals can help individuals express themselves online while still working within corporate communications guidelines, and towards the firm’s larger goals. To this end, engaging a firm’s key online stakeholders in corporate communications processes can else also help prevent the pre-emptive disclosure of plans which are still in the pipeline.

If nothing else, at least this year’s statement hasn’t been met with the consternation and upheaval caused by last year’s announcement, when a Liz Truss led government triggered a widespread gilt selloff by seeking to push through a roster of unfunded tax cuts.

Nevertheless, the response to the 2024 announcement has probably still not been what the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, would have hoped for – a mixed reception with questions raised over the extent to which policies will actually deliver.

The Chancellor’s stated focus was to support economic growth. The fact that he subsequently referenced backing “British business with 110 growth measures” shows how difficult that task will be.

Reductions in national insurance, investments in technology (particularly AI) and manufacturing, and business rate cuts sound good on paper. However, they come with a sizeable counterpoint from commentators – that the current state of the economy may not give as much headroom as the government has indicated. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has downgraded expectations for growth to 0.7% next year, having previously predicted in March that 2024 growth would be 1.8%.

And, what of investment and pensions issues? An overhaul of Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) has potentially positive implications for some investment providers, with confirmation that Long-Term Asset Funds (LTAFs) and Property Authorised Investment Funds (PAIFs) will be eligible for inclusion in an ‘Innovative Finance ISA’. Consultation over pensions reforms and the potential creation of a ‘pot for life’ model (where savers would have a single pension pot and could require employers to pay into that rather than designated corporate schemes) may also have an impact, though it remains to be seen if this will actually come to fruition.

All in all, there was not too much for the investment industry to get excited about. The statement does, however, reiterate that the responsibility for investment decisions and protecting one’s financial future lies firmly with individual consumers themselves. This (continued) move to more of a retail-like landscape is something providers will need to be very conscious of, with brand messaging and profile playing an increasing role in business’ success.

Much, then, for the UK market to chew over, particularly as an election increasingly looms large.

The written word is now the dominant form of global communication. Whether it’s an abbreviated text, a wordy email or, as recent events have vividly illustrated, an ill-judged WhatsApp exchange, we now invariably reach for a keyboard when we want to communicate.

The total number of voice calls made from UK mobile phones and landlines has declined significantly. Take this staggering statistic: in 2012, a total of 235 billion minutes of UK calls were made. By last year, this had declined to 202 billion (if you’re wondering, the shortfall is the equivalent of spending around 60,000 years on the phone).

Given the ever-presence of the phone in our pocket it’s quite surprising how little we want to talk. Which is a pity because – next to meeting someone face-to-face – talking on the phone is the best way to get to know someone and often sort out an issue which might take a prolonged written exchange. Of course, the expediency of copying others into an exchange often drives this behaviour, and you cannot deny the efficiency of not having to repeat yourself subsequently to everyone who may ‘need-to-know’.

However, with the importance of the written word for communication in both a professional and private capacity, perhaps we should pay more attention to how we write?

The common issue with the written word in business communication is that the short-form style which we often employ can appear impersonal, abrupt and, at worst, unclear. In short, the nuance of what we’re trying to say can get lost.

What might be a perfectly acceptable one sentence question in-person, can feel curt when fired across in an email. And a lack of basic formatting/punctuation or even word choice can give the wrong impression and ultimately lead to crossed-wires and misunderstandings.

Whilst the solution might be to pick up the phone and speak to someone in person, that sometimes is not an option. We all know people whose phone seems to always go to voicemail and, in the media sector, an increasing number of journalists are very clear that they only wish to be approached by email.

And, of course, our native language adds another layer of complexity. If you’re writing in a language which is not your own then the syntax of your mother tongue will still shape how you express yourself. The upside is that there is no accent to obscure the importance of what you’re saying.

This also applies to the natives of a country. A recent study by the University of Essex has revealed that in London, the traditional extremes of ‘Cockney’ or the ‘King’s English’ have been supplanted by three new variants: Southern British English; Estuary English; and Multi-Cultural London English – with Prince Harry, Adele and Stormzy being cited as examples of each respectively. Each are all English but all have their own linguistic nuance.

Perhaps the key to knowing when to write or call should be defined by knowing when each mode will be most effective. So, stopping to think about when an email will be most effective (for example, when you need to give the recipient some thinking time) or you should call (maybe when previous emails have failed to elicit a response?) is perhaps always the key. But don’t write-off the phone: it can still be good to talk.

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I decided to go into PR following a year in South America after University where I had managed the British Chamber of Commerce in Quito, Ecuador, recruiting new clients, producing a quarterly magazine and organising events.

I had always been interested in the media and had completed a number of work experience placements at UK national and local newspapers, as well as stints at a radio station and a national paper in Ecuador.

However, I decided I enjoyed the client interaction I had experienced at the Chamber of Commerce and the multi-faceted nature of the role, so embarked on a career in communications..

How have you found hybrid working over the last few months?

As a working mum, hybrid working and increased flexibility in the workplace has been invaluable. It means I can focus on my work, either at home or in the office, whilst also being present for my children.

I really enjoy the peace and quiet of Mondays at home, after what has usually been a hectic weekend, to focus on the things I need to get done and to tick all the items off my to do list. I then look forward to my time in the office, interacting with colleagues and clients, and enjoying the busy and fun environment we have at JPES.

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

There are a couple of areas I tend to skip to and that interest me. The first is investment in UK companies and the debate around the functionality of the UK market including the lack of research now for smaller companies, not to mention the lack of airtime given to these companies in the media. It’s an issue that is gaining traction and one that needs addressing to ensure the success of the City ecosystem, UK plc, the economy at large and the delivery of investment returns.

The other area I’m interested in, from a personal and professional point of view, is the ongoing debate about women in the workplace and how to increase their presence and seniority. I’m always slightly bemused by it; it’s not a difficult problem to solve but it requires businesses to consider issues such as flexibility – for women and for men. It is on the agenda but now requires more businesses to commit to change.

What do you do in your spare time?

When I’m not working most of my time is dedicated to our two girls and ferrying them to their various commitments; I spend a lot of time on the sidelines of hockey and cricket pitches.

I also like to run myself – usually with my cockapoo in tow – albeit if I can go alone it’s definitely my preferred option as I can put my headphones on and enjoy some peace!

And when I get the chance I love going to the theatre or to a concert or sporting event – we’ve managed to enjoy a few different events over the last couple of years and reaped the benefit of living in London.

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

The last book I read was “Lessons in Chemistry,” which describes the life of a woman in 1950s/60s America, her career as a chemist which takes an unexpected turn as a TV chef as she finds herself as a single mother. It charts her struggles against sexism in the workplace, maintaining a career whilst also looking after her daughter and being a forward-looking role model for her, as well as how she deals with the loss of her partner. In many ways it highlights how the world has moved on whilst some of the themes it tackles remain relevant today – particularly regarding trying to be a good role model, be that at home or in the workplace.

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months

I’m not very good at setting specific goals for myself but one of my many reasons for joining JPES was to increase my expertise in a specific sector, having worked across sectors for much of my career. So my professional goal is to further deepen my knowledge of the investment industry.

 

Many years ago, I was having lunch with a London office agent who mentioned in passing that he’d just been appointed on a new office development on Oxford Street. My words of congratulation were met with a roll of the eyes and the explanation that ‘no one really wants an office on Oxford Street’. His take was that neither occupiers – nor their visitors – relished the process of ploughing through a sea of shoppers and tourists to get in and out of an office. “It doesn’t scream quality does it?”, was his withering verdict.

I was reminded of his views in 2013 when a group of Qatari investors led by Amanda Staveley took over the Park House development at the west end of Oxford Street. Ironically, given more recent events, the scheme was built across the road from the M&S flagship store, and when unveiled was trumpeted as the ‘largest office development in Mayfair for a decade’.

Leaving aside for a moment the question as to whether Oxford Street can ever really feel like part of Mayfair (perhaps tellingly Landsec had happily sold the scheme out to Staveley and her partners), the Park House development made halting progress. The street level retail units let with ease, but two years after completion only around 15% of the 165,000 sq ft office component had been let.

At that time, I asked an agent why this was and was told to go to the new building’s entrance and then turn around. I did this and found myself facing a large Primark store. When I later reported back to the agent, she laughed and said: “It’s not quite the brand association you want when emerging from your pricey West End office, is it?”.
At pretty much the same time as Park House continued its search for tenants, Facebook signed up for a prelet of all 242,000 sq ft of offices at Great Portfland Estates’ Rathbone Square development at the east end of Oxford Street.

That scheme created the first new London square for a century but its configuration showed no desire to connect with Oxford Street. Greeting the news of the Facebook letting, West End office experts nodded and commented: “Well, it’s close to Oxford Street but it’s not on it is it?”.

As is so often the case with a property’s location, a miss is as good as a mile and prevailing attitudes play a part. We specialise in evaluating every UK location in terms of hard economic and demographic data, but also acknowledge that – especially in multi-layered cities like London – perceptions will always influence occupier attitudes.
Oxford Street is clearly a great retail environment that is in transition. After the trauma of many store closures and the arrival of multiple ‘American candy stores’, the street is now looking ahead to better times with IKEA opening in the old TopShop on Oxford Circus and HMV coming back to re-occupy its flgaship store next to Bond Street station. Meanwhile, Westminster City Council has just unveiled plans to revamp the street by reducing traffic and increasing space for pedestrians.

And, of course, just west of Oxford Circus, John Lewis is also progressing a major redevelopment of its store to create more than 300,000 sq ft of offices. Presumably, along with their partners – Hines and Korea’s National Pension Services – JLP won’t be too sad if M&S’s project is delayed or ultimately out of the picture.

But if both do eventually go-ahead, they have the ability to help tilt Oxford Street away from its predominant shopping mono-culture. In the meantime, M&S has taken up legal cudgels to challenge Gove’s rebuff, and the jury remains out regarding Oxford Street’s attraction as an office location.

Who knows: one day, M&S may feel more sanguine about this setback and the thinking time it provides…

 

This article first appeared in the Autumn issue of Property Chronicle

A number of asset managers have recently demonstrated interest in expanding their media activities to reach the charity ecosystem. To better serve their needs, JPES Partners carried out a survey of editors and senior journalists at charity trade titles to understand the topics that are currently capturing the attention of financial decision makers in the sector.

Compared to the pensions market, charities’ investment portfolios make up a small segment of the UK institutional investment landscape. September 2023 statistics from the Charity Commission for England and Wales put the current total of long-term investments by charities at £178 billion.

In contrast, the Thinking Ahead Institute’s 2023 Global Pension Assets Study calculated the pension assets for the UK in 2022 at USD $2.5 trillion (roughly £2.1 trillion). Comparatively, the Association of British Insurers cites £1.8 trillion as the size of the UK insurance investment market.

According to Newton Investment Management’s 2022 Charity Investment Survey, of the 91 charities spoken to, 66% had assets of under £20m, 27% were between £21m and £100m, 4% were between £101m and £500m, and only 3% were over £501m.

The UK charities media landscape is also limited in scope itself, with only six charities-focused media titles also covering issues around charities’ investment portfolios.

Several key themes emerged from our survey. The most prominent issue raised by editors and senior journalists at charities trade titles was the relationship between ESG and charities’ investment portfolios.

The journalists we surveyed particularly emphasised that the environmental and social aspects of charities’ investments are crucial to address moving forward. That said, on social factors, Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) also emerged as a rising matter of prominence within the charities’ investment space.

Respondents concurred that not only was the asset management industry insufficiently tackling issues around ESG and DEI, but communication with the charities sector on these topics was lacking. Those surveyed also reported that investment solutions tended to be insufficiently tailored to the charities sector, and the quantity and nuance of communication on ESG-related issues was falling short.

One interviewee took this further, stating, “The ESG system is not really fit for purpose at the moment.” He suggested that in order to tailor ESG-related solutions to the charities sector, asset managers may have to innovate beyond the traditional categories of ‘environmental’ and ‘social’ concerns and look at other areas which bridge the two areas, or fall outside of them, such as ethical investing.

From the interviews conducted, it was clear trustees and executives at charities were unhappy with the quality of ESG and DEI-related communication from the investment industry. Even when these concerns were tackled, they were not always being tailored to the specific needs and nuances of the charities sector.

These are just a few of the considerations that emerged from our survey. To read the full report on themes of interest to UK charities, please get in touch with JPES Partners.

 

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Bank of England being forced to intervene to stabilise the gilts market, after former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s unfunded tax cuts rocked the UK’s financial markets, causing gilt yields to soar and prices to fall.

Notably, it also brought down the Premiership of Liz Truss, mere weeks after being ‘appointed’ to the role, and fuelled a negative (or laughable – depending on your view) image of the U.K. abroad. No one will forget that a lettuce outlasted a Prime Minister.

Adding to the concern was that it was a crisis in what was supposed to be a relatively stable area of the investment market, UK government debt, and it shocked everyone. For the first time, in my memory at least, terms like ‘Defined Benefit pension funds’ and ‘Liability Driven Investing (LDI)’ were the lead story in the nationals and on Channel 4 news every night.

As those weeks unfolded, they had huge consequences – and many are still feeling the impact. From those renegotiating their mortgages at the worst possible time, through to many closed DB schemes being that much closer to buyout than ever before, limiting appetite even further for riskier (equities) or more illiquid (infrastructure) assets.

And yet, whilst it wasn’t widely talked about publicly, the issue wasn’t entirely out of the blue either. I recall having conversations months before the crisis, where several people cited concerns over big movements in bond yields, what that meant for pension schemes, in some case concerns even with regards to over-leveraged LDI, and the fact that the consequences of all this were not being fully discussed in the market.

It turns out that these topics, particularly the issue of rates and collateral buffers, were already coming up in conversations with many pension schemes over the Summer, and whilst they couldn’t have foreseen the sheer scale of the problem that eventually unfolded, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a ‘black swan’ event.

It was notable at the time that relatively few organisations were willing to discuss – publicly – what was happening and the reasons for it, save for those on the periphery of the crisis.

There is, of course, a delicate balance to strike in the midst of such an event, to avoid simply stoking the embers. It was only a few months ago that the Chairman of the Saudi National Bank, Ammar Al Khudairy, ruled out providing further funding for embattled Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, during a live TV interview. The shares went into freefall, prompting the takeover by UBS just four days later. Within weeks, Al Khudairy had also resigned.

If there are broader lessons we can learn, perhaps one of them is the imperative of remaining close to those at the coal face of a business, to better understand the key concerns impacting on the company, and importantly on clients. A good communications strategy can’t halt a crisis – but sometimes it can provide an opportunity to pre-empt an issue and consider what can and can’t be said.

In a statement last month, the Secretary for State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced an extension of the Permitted Development Rights planning measure. This was originally brought in a decade ago and saw millions of square feet of vacant offices converted into homes. Under this new policy, getting planning permission to turn vacant shops, takeaway restaurants, betting shops et al into homes would be similarly straightforward.

However, one of the potential fault lines in this strategy is the configuration of the properties in question.

Previously, the majority of old offices that were turned into homes were tower blocks of varying sizes. As such, they were relatively straightforward to convert into flats, and the multiplicity of units they created enabled the developments to be viable.

When looking at converting shops to residential, it’s hard to benefit from the same dynamics. Their lay-out is often not very amenable to conversion and the pattern of multi-ownership across town centres means that doing developments of any scale could involve painstaking site acquisitions.

Encouragingly however, many conversions/redevelopments are already taking place. A cursory look at the flow of High Street assets which pass through UK property auctions shows that those which are snapped up most quickly often have scope for whole or partial residential conversion.

Of course, the reason that these properties are in demand is because of their economic viability and prime locations: two key factors that attracts considerable attention from would-be investors. And this touches on the other major fault line in Gove’s plan. A huge number of the empty properties he has in mind are in areas of economic deprivation where the cost-return equation would simply not make conversion viable.

So, whilst a more congenial planning system would be welcome to get the conversion ball rolling it would have to be – in many UK locations – supplemented by some kind of financial support to create viability. Perhaps a partial or whole VAT exemption on necessary conversion works?

At a time like this when the Government is as strapped for cash as most of the population, it may be hard to expect the Treasury to forego any tax revenues. But if there is real intent to address the problems of our urban areas then there needs to be fiscal encouragement which can be more than repaid through increased economic vitality and enhanced environments.

Helen Thomas’s column in the Financial Times on the need to kill the City of London’s paper fetish piqued my interest. It’s interesting to note that a paper legacy still influences content marketing, as well.

The formatting of digital documents often still follows the ‘old school’ format of print layouts in today’s digital era – a quirk which has a disproportionately negative effect on businesses trying to get their message across.

In the realm of corporate communications, it’s still far too common to encounter lengthy double-column PDFs that do not align with the landscape orientation of most monitors.

This format forces readers to scroll through each page multiple times – down, up, and down again in an irritating visual gyration that might as well earn it Peter Crouch’s famous Chumbawamba moniker (if you know, you know). This unfriendly formatting renders content nearly unreadable on mobile devices, making it awkward to skim through during commutes, coffee breaks and other prime target times for casual reading.

To be fair, sometimes PDFs are simply digital versions of documents which have been produced for print. However, even in that case some thought should perhaps be given to the accessibility of the digital counterpart, because that is the version in which they will eventually survive.

Otherwise, many recipients will either print out the content to access it more easily or simply delete it: sub-optimal outcomes for both the authors and the environment.

In an era driven by sustainability, where every email signature encourages readers to refrain from printing out unnecessary content – the “Think before you ink” of the business world – it’s disheartening to see corporate graphic designers indulge in this pulp kink (pun intended) in the formatting of marketing materials.

For these reasons, we usually advise clients to keep texts concise and punchy, or to embrace more practical layouts for effective and accessible reproduction on websites and other digital channels. Formats that look to the past will not endear you to an audience which progressively comprises more and more digital natives.

As London celebrates the long-awaited reopening of the National Portrait Gallery, perhaps businesses should consider donating their vertically orientated marketing materials to the museum’s collection!

As high-profile businesses either abandon the UK market, bet on dual listings to access US investors who value growth, or seek private investment to avoid the regulatory costs and pressure that comes with being a listed entity, the question has come, better late than never, about what can be done to reverse the tide of a lack of investment in UK companies.

At the same time, DB pension schemes are continuing to reduce their exposure to growth assets such as equities, as they edge closer to potential buyout, resulting in total DB pension fund exposure to UK equities plummeting to 10% from 50% in 2008.

Politicians and commentators on all sides of the political spectrum are vying to present their best ideas on how to rectify the situation and attract investment into the UK, including mandating pension funds to commit a minimum investment into UK equities; removing the ISA tax break on non-UK investments; taxing passive investment vehicles and proposing various growth funds into which pension funds may or may not be instructed to allocate investment.

These suggestions have received mixed reactions. On the buy-side there is scepticism about forcing investors to commit their savings to UK growth. On the sell-side relief that politicians have finally noticed the lack of investment into the UK.

As the debate continues, and it is presumed it will continue as the current government remains distracted by the many issues consuming its tenure and as Labour positions itself to be the next business-friendly government, the issue remains: how to increase investment and risk appetite in order to increase not only investment in the UK, but also investment returns for savers, which have underperformed.

Research by JPES Partners shows that investors, including DB schemes, wealth managers and wholesale platforms, are underwhelmed by their asset managers, with a headline 36% decline in confidence in their managers and with only 25% of respondents satisfied with the delivery of investment results versus objectives.

Investment objectives and returns are a personal choice but it would be fair to assume that the majority of investors are hoping to preserve, and increase, their capital whilst minimising volatility, albeit accepting that it forms part of an investment timeline. Another key consideration is of course cost, which has led to the rise of trackers and passive investing.

It is perhaps this trend towards passive investing, combined with increasing regulation and cost, that has had the greatest impact on returns and investing. As Simon French, Economist at Panmure Gordon wrote in The Times, “These investments…contribute next to nothing to the key social function of financial markets…” Many passive vehicles route capital and investment away from the smallest and fastest-growing companies in favour of the biggest. They also encourage a lack of diversification. Take the FTSE 100 as a case in point where investors’ exposure will be dominated by banks and natural resources, or the US Nasdaq where investors will end up long technology. In the end, it drives more money to certain corners of the market; it doesn’t support growth of new or growing businesses, only of those that have, in effect, already made it.

The desire to re-route capital to nascent or growing parts of the economy and to create a liquid market to encourage growth is surely a good thing for all market participants – to encourage economic growth and all the benefits that brings with it – and to precipitate a growth in investments for savers. No-one is suggesting allocating all pension pots to growth or dismissing the role of trackers – but the current downward trend is bad for the UK economy, UK plc and UK savers.

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I became interested in communications while working for a luxury hotel in India, where I met the hotel’s PR and was intrigued by her job. So, I got my degree in PR & Comms and have been in love with the profession ever since. It has been about 12 years now.

I have worked in aviation, construction, technology and, most recently, in pensions and investment communications, and I was astonished by the power of this industry to make positive changes.

How have you found hybrid working over the last few months?

With hybrid working, I found my perfect fit. I cannot imagine now that there was a time when we were commuting to work five days a week.

Hybrid working allows me to mingle with colleagues and meet journalists and clients. I enjoy the flexibility of coming to work, having face-to-face time with my colleagues, travelling for meetings and working from home when it’s too cold.

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

Before joining the pensions and investment sector, I didn’t realise how influential this sector was. Our money, which we put away as a form of savings every month for retirement, is surprisingly very powerful and can shape a more sustainable future for everyone.

Ethical pension investments can be very effective in creating sustainable solutions for the future. Not only can our pension money be invested in companies that play a crucial role in tackling global crises such as climate change and inequality, but funding from pensions can also exert a powerful influence over the direction companies take, such as transitioning to becoming more ESG and sustainability-friendly.

What do you do in your spare time?

I have a decent collection of Legos and my latest completed set is ‘Ship in a bottle.’ Next in line is Lego’s International Space Station. I also enjoy going for a walk and exploring London from a tourist’s point of view. I am always surprised by something that I haven’t noticed before.

During summers, cricket takes over my life. Either I am watching it, talking about it or playing for my local cricket club.

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

The last book I read was “The island of missing trees” by Elif Shafak. Elif Shafak writes with an understanding of the power and importance of the written word. She uses her gift to broaden minds and start much-needed conversations about how we treat the least privileged among us. She combines fiction with non-fiction to present beautiful stories.

The island of missing trees is set against the 1974 Greek and Turkish conflict in Cyprus, spanning multiple timelines. It follows the story of a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, their eventual move to London, and the impact of their past and history on their daughter Ada, all narrated by a ‘fig tree.’

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months
I would like to focus on reading more this year. I have a list of books I want to get to by December 2023.

I also want to improve my calligraphy skills as it helps me avoid screens and give time to good old paper and pen.

Citywire editor Chris Sloley’s article on fund selector’s dislike for factsheets rekindled some memories from a meeting I had with an executive at an asset management firm that occurred just before the pandemic.

“No one cares about factsheets!” the executive cried during a meeting on content generation. “They are dull, and no one really reads them!” he continued, citing poor traffic data on dedicated webpages as the evidence behind his claim.

While his frustration was understandable then, as it clearly still is, as is evident from Chris’s piece, we explained to him that we are of a different opinion at JPES.

As specialist communications professionals in the asset management industry, we are well-aware of portfolio managers’ time constraints, and appreciate they may not be able to provide original insights or share their latest views on the news agenda too frequently and in a timely fashion.

Therefore, when needs must, every available piece of information on a specific strategy assumes a greater relevance for an investment firm’s communication plan, sometimes even the seemingly most insignificant ones.

While insightful thought leadership articles or in-depth reports can be practical and versatile tools for media engagement purposes, they often take a very long time to see the light. That’s why factsheets must not be overlooked within the broader communications toolkit.

The content is a balanced compromise between conflicting forces: investors’ requirements for disclosure and assessment on one hand; and portfolio managers’ simultaneous desire for promotion and secrecy around their skills on the other – they must say the most, while actually telling the least.

The resulting documents from these conflicting needs can therefore be treasure troves of data points and graphs.

While charts and tables may appear rather static and of limited use at a cursory sight, they are often an unsung and effective cog within an investment firm’s communication machine.

Geographies, industry exposures, product characteristics and many other data points. These pieces of information acquire new meaning and expand beyond their margins when plotted against the background of current affairs. Analysing consecutive editions can also be plugged one into the other, thus revealing bigger pictures, like the dot-to-dot puzzles that most of us completed as kids.

In this way, communications professionals are able to overcome potential content barriers, by devising compelling and relevant narratives that not only gain journalists’ interest, thanks to their relevance within the broader news agenda; but also zero in on themes that are most pertinent to the spokespeople.

Like the fund selectors in the story, we also receive many factsheets; but it is our job to sieve through each and every one in search of that golden nugget of information to push to the right audience.

When it comes to factsheets, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

Covid has changed the working week to such an extent that Friday is now the nation’s favourite ‘WFH’ day and there’s little point in doing distribution if there’s no one there to pick up your paper.

Urban freesheets like City AM, The London Evening Standard and Metro have managed to continue to stay in print despite the inexorable rise of digital channels over recent years.

But now, with daily commuting firmly in retreat, the Golden Age of Print Journalism is facing a challenge which could finally prove fatal.

Whilst this might be welcomed in some quarters on the grounds of sustainability factors, it’s worrying with respect to the future of quality and diversity of journalism.

Anything which further compromises the future revenue prospects of the media also, by extension, makes the viability of good journalism more precarious and will increasingly polarise the dissemination of news.

City AM, Metro and The Standard may not be the stuff of which Pulitzer prizes are made, but they are all solid news platforms and a step-up from the grisly click-bait that pervades many of their online peers.

However, at a time when it feels like the Duke of Sussex would be quite happy to preside over a bonfire of just about every UK paper in print, and the rail unions are doing their best to make train travel even more unattractive than it was, it’s a hard time for the hard copy titles which catered for the commuting public.

It’ll be interesting to see if a trend which has started with a free-sheet may now spread to other mainstream titles.

It’s not been an easy twelve months for the asset management sector. A much-changed world – characterised by rising inflation and interest rates, geopolitical tension and growing regulatory pressures – has made for a markedly different environment for investment businesses and their clients to operate in. The benign markets of the last decade feel a long time ago.

In such an environment, it is critical to understand the key concerns, priorities and thinking facing asset managers’ underlying clients. It is on this basis that JPES Partners has conducted its annual asset owner survey – Looking Beyond Investment Returns: Assessing Asset Owner Priorities in 2023 – a major research initiative surveying the views of 32 UK pension schemes, charities, investment consultants, fiduciary managers, wealth managers and wholesale platforms who are collectively responsible for more than £800 billion of assets

The results of the study – which were presented at the annual JPES Asset Management Seminar – are stark. Confidence among asset owners in the managers they employ has fallen by 36% in the last twelve months, with just one third of respondents now ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ in their existing managers. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed indicated they would likely make changes to their manager roster in the next year.

Satisfaction levels of asset owners towards the asset managers they employ over 12 months compared to 2021

Source: JPES Partners

While some increased dissatisfaction among clients should be expected in these turbulent times, the scale of this fall in confidence should raise questions. Asset owners noted particular concern over the ability of investment strategies to respond to crisis, as well as the quality of information provided by managers to their clients. The latter certainly appears an area where additional work is needed, not least given the increased reporting and regulatory pressures under which asset owners find themselves.

Though this clearly represents a challenge in terms of client retention, does it also indicate opportunities from a new business perspective? In theory at least, one person’s loss can be another’s gain.

The reality is a little more complicated, with asset managers needing to understand the key priorities and criteria used by asset owners to select future service providers. More work also appears required here, with those areas that asset owners are prioritising – team quality and continuity, ability to explain investment strategy, and ability to demonstrate a positive corporate culture – being where decision-makers feel managers fall short. The importance attached to the cultural element of investment firms is especially notable, with just 8% indicating satisfaction towards managers in this area.

With this in mind, reviewing and improving client engagement and communications practices should now be a clear priority. Managers must be able to meet investor needs and demonstrate the unique characteristics and attributes of their own businesses. Investment performance and track record alone are no longer enough – success now also requires the ‘softer’ skills of communication.

 

For more information on JPES Partners’ proprietary research programme and our latest study – Looking Beyond Investment Returns: Assessing Asset Owner Priorities in 2023 – please contact matt.rogers@jpespartners.com

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I previously trained as an academic historian and spent several years teaching ancient and medieval history at a number of universities across London. The pandemic gave me time to pause and consider other career options, especially ones where I could work more collaboratively and be part of a team. I met with JPES consultant Dr. Steve Tibble to tap into his experiences of the cross-over between academia and communications and reflecting upon it presently, it was very sound advice!

How have you found hybrid working over the last few months?

It feels quite natural now. It was always one of the perks in my previous job that I was never stuck doing a ‘9-5’ in some office, and dare I say that the transition to hybrid-working coincided nicely with my change of career. Commuting in is not bad when there is some flexibility about it, and the current pattern at JPES allows me to work to my strengths and priorities as and when I need to.

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

I am very intrigued with the ‘greenwashing’ issue that has been playing out within financial services and asset manager space, though I am aware that other industries have been plagued with similar issues. In the property sector, I am keeping a keen eye on office occupancy levels, and how office owners and employers make sense of hybrid-working to encourage and foster working environments that align with modern working practices.

What do you do in your spare time?

I am putting the finishing touches to my first book, which is based on my PhD thesis. I particularly love my sport across the year being an avid follower of cricket, rugby and F1. Attending Lords and the Oval are always highlights of my summer. In general, I am always looking for fun things to do whether that is playing cricket, exploring the countryside, or visiting the traditional British pub.

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I am going to give a shout-out to two of my regular podcasts, both of which get me through commuting. The first is Tailenders – a loosely cricket based podcast with Greg James, Felix White, and Jimmy Anderson. It is pitched at exactly the right tempo to unwind and have a laugh to. The other is The Rest is History with Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland. The topics covered by the pod feeds into my deep fascination with all things history, but again, like Tailenders, the two hosts have an affable and humorous rapport with one another that is often missing in day-to-day life.

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months

As I have already mentioned, I am finishing off my first book which I hope to have published early next year. I also want to find more time next summer to play cricket, as well as follow as much of the Ashes series as possible.

In describing what its new HQ would provide, it said that the building would “set new standards in sustainability and accommodate more than 1,800 seats”. Seats. Not desks. Not workstations. And certainly not offices which – with its connotations of cubicles and corner offices – are increasingly seen as an outdated way of looking at working environments.

Blackstone’s choice of the word “seats” speaks volumes about “white collar” work in a post-Lockdown world.

It underlines how hybrid working has altered the relationship between individuals and their workspace. Hot-desking was, of course, an established practice before the pandemic, but the way in which the concept of working space has shrunk to a simple seat is an attitudinal landmark.

It also hints at the planned trajectory of Blackstone’s UK business. The US giant currently has 500 people in London so, if it’s projecting a need for 1,800 seats, well – as our American cousins say –“you do the math”.

It’s a shift of attitudes which also asks questions of other stakeholders in the sector. Will leasing agents start referring to “seats” in their marketing collateral for space? And where does this leave one of the erstwhile pillars of the office sector: the British Council for Offices’ space density person measure?

Interestingly, while the concept of “seats” may feel like packing people in, the BCO  has signalled this week that current trends – and workplace efficiencies – mean that space densities should be relaxed rather than intensified. Recommended densities had steadily tracked up since the Millennium, but the BCO is now proposing that the base-level occupancy criterion should be relaxed from the current UK average of 9.8 square metres per person up 10-12 square metres.

So whilst the Blackstone cohorts may not be able to have desks festooned with family pictures, stress balls and their favourite coffee mug, they may end up getting more personal space.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence, passive management in the US is set to expand steadily for the foreseeable future and essentially for active management, the domestic market for most products has gone ex-growth. If they have not done so already, there is an increasing need for ambitious US asset managers to build a more stable three-legged business based in the US, EMEA and Asia, in particular offering strong global, Emerging Market and to some extent US equity products outside the US.

The opportunities for US managers overseas are highly attractive. There are institutional markets to pursue, even with defined benefit markets in decline, in the public sector for example, a rapidly growing private wealth market and, of course, sovereign wealth funds. We met one boutique US manager who had been appointed to a leading UK wealth management platform and it has transformed their business. Where one major appointment occurs others can follow.

The challenge, however, is that the international marketplace is highly competitive. Sales and marketing techniques need to reflect cultural differences and building an overseas business from a US perspective requires patience and visible commitment, often by having people on the ground in key markets.

One further hurdle is in the arena of ESG policies. This is perhaps the only area of the investment management industry US managers lag their overseas counterparts, but it is crucial. Unless there is a demonstrable commitment to combatting climate change and incorporating diversity and inclusion policies into investment strategies, they will fail to gain momentum in building an overseas business. In particular, regulatory issues in respect of ESG policies have to be fully understood to ensure funds have the necessary categorisations to allow full access in Europe.

With all this in mind, raising a US manager’s international profile through strong, tailored marketing collateral, differentiated and forward looking ESG policies, careful media relations strategies to display thought leadership credentials and a demonstrative commitment to individual markets through client service delivered by local employees all maximise opportunities.

Interestingly, the takeaway from last week was an increasing recognition by astute US based asset managers that this is exactly what is required to broaden their business base successfully.

How and why did you decide to go into communications?

I’ve always been fascinated by the persuasive power of words and the ways they can be used to express ideas. At the University of Michigan, I completed my Bachelors in Creative Writing and Literature. Although I learned a lot about writing and analysis, I ultimately sought to pursue a career where I felt what I did had more real-life implications. This led me to study a Masters’ degree in War Studies at King’s College, and now to financial communications at JPES Partners. I love educating myself about often complex topics and relaying that information to others in a way that helps them understand, so communications has been a natural fit for me.

How have you found hybrid working over the last few months?

I’ve been really enjoying hybrid working, much to my own surprise. Prior to joining JPES, I had a strong bias against working from home, due to spending much of 2020 in one of the world’s longest continuous lockdowns in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, I’ve actually come to appreciate the flexibility and quiet that comes with working from home.

At the same time, the days I spend working in the office are definitely the highlight of the week for me. Seeing people face to face is so important for sharing ideas, learning from one another, and getting to know your colleagues. I feel being in the office in person helps collaboration and inspiration flow in a much more natural way.

What areas or trends interests you the most at this time?

Because what happens in emerging markets impacts the global economy as a whole, I believe the future development of EMs merits increased attention. On a personal level, living in Argentina allowed me to practically see how macro events like IMF bailouts and elections can have consequences on the day-to-day purchasing power of a currency, and thus daily life.

Simultaneously, the war in Ukraine has brought an acute awareness to the fact that we live in an interlinked, global economy. Overdependence on Russian energy and rising prices of Ukrainian commodities such as wheat are putting further pressure on Western economies which have suffered under Covid-19. Events in Emerging Markets are compounding inflationary stress around the world, leading to a diverse range of approaches by central banks in an attempt to combat this, and also affecting all of our lives on multiple levels.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to go running and play football. I used to run semi-competitively for a number of years, but it is something I now do for my own peace of mind. In addition to providing an outlet for my competitive streak, I find playing football a great way to make local friends. More generally, I always make a lot of time in my schedule to catch up with friends and family, both in here in London and abroad.

Tell us about the last book you read or the last podcast you listened to?

I recently finished The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo which I really enjoyed, as it combined several of my interests. The book weaves together Italian and South American 19th century history, and deals with some of challenges particular to women of the period.

My favourite podcast is called Throughline, which explores current events through a historical lens. The podcast links issues contemporary issues including politics, economics, and the environment to past events, really contextualizing and unlocking hidden layers of meaning in our modern world.

Name one goal, professional or personal, you have set yourself for the next 12 months

One of my priorities at the moment is improving my Italian. I previously spent a semester of university studying in Venice, Italy, and focused on Italian history and security in my masters’ degree as well, but I’ve unfortunately lost some of my speaking skills over the years. I’ve been meeting with some other Italian learners and a native speaker for informal classes over the past few months. I see this as both a professional and personal goal because further language skills and culture awareness of course benefits clients as well as myself.