Schroder gets product focused

Schroder Investment Management wrestles with the practical implications of adding product focus to a country-first investment style.

Nicola Ralston, Schroder Investment Management's London-based head of investment management, was in Hong Kong this week to explain to Hong Kong staff how a number of new hires at headquarters are designed to make the firm operate more smoothly as a global network.

Schroders, which has $217 billion of funds under management worldwide ($30 billion of which is invested in Asian securities), has begun seriously grappling with the implications of adding an emphasis on product alongside an existing investment style that is dominated by country analysis. It is now reviewing its entire product range with an eye to determine any gaps or duplications. "There is no plan to become a centralized business but we need a global product strategy," says Ralston.

The catalyst for the review was the sale of Schroder's investment banking business to Salomon Smith Barney, which was announced in January and completed in May. That deal left Schroders to concentrate fully on asset management. Ralston says, however, the firm had already been heading in a direction of thinking about sectors and product; her role of global investment management head was created for her 18 months ago.

Now she is moving into action: last week she promoted David Gasparro, Schroder's head of investment strategy in London, to a new role as head of retail investment. That follows last month's hiring of Susan Haroun as head of institutional investment from UBS Brinson, where she had run their European investments. She intends to announce a new head of private banking in London soon.

Ralston says these moves won't lead to hiring or firing in Asia, but mean Hong Kong fund managers' lives will get more complicated. They previously just reported to country and regional heads; now they report to these same people as well as to Haroun and Gasparro for product lines. The reason: to improve accountability for decisions, to bolster asset allocation skills as opposed to relying solely on stock-picking skills, and to facilitate the sharing of knowledge not just from Asia to London, but vice-versa. "It's not a London-centric process," Ralston asserts. "I'm here to discuss with the staff the practicalities of international cooperation." As a result Schroders hopes to improve its ability to deliver all kinds of products, with all kinds of risk profiles, to all kinds of clients who have all kinds of needs.

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