Company Profiles

Driving Business Through Pandemic - Interview With Bordier UK's Jamie MacLeod

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 11 May 2021

Driving Business Through Pandemic - Interview With Bordier UK's Jamie MacLeod

This news organisation catches up with one of the "dynamos" of the UK wealth management sector - Jamie MacLeod, CEO of Bordier UK. He discusses how the firm handled the pandemic, his views on the UK sector post-Brexit, investment performance, and what the future holds.

Jamie MacLeod recently celebrated a decade at the helm of St James’s-based wealth manager Bordier UK. Chief executive of the UK business throughout, and a member of the Bordier & Cie global executive board, MacLeod spoke exclusively to this publication as he reflected on a decade like no other and contemplated the challenges facing the industry.

MacLeod has a lot of experience under his belt. He was a driving force in building Scottish Widows’ investment management business. He was appointed managing director at Scottish Widows Fund Management and head of global business and client services for Scottish Widows Investment Management at the age of just 29. In 1999, at the height of the dotcom boom, he joined Investec Asset Management to head its UK and European retail business. Appointed managing director of both Investec Fund Managers and Investec Management, he was also a member of its global executive. In 2002, he joined Skandia Group, and as CEO, founded Skandia Investment Management. He formed Skandia Investment Group in 2007 and, as CEO, led a £50 billion investment business. In 2010 he acquired a 20 per cent shareholding in, and became CEO of, Berry Asset Management, the forerunner to Bordier UK.

With all that experience, and after the past extraordinary year for the wealth management industry, this news service interviewed someone whom it knows retains a strong competitive streak and strong views about the industry.

Q: How has your own business experience, the time spent building teams and coping with setbacks, prepared you for the challenges of the pandemic? 
MacLeod: It has often been said in business circles that people achieve their greatest success one step beyond failure. I have had my share of both in my 23 years as a CEO in investment and wealth management and have learned that setbacks are never far away and are very often close companions of your greatest successes.

A year on from the onset of the pandemic I feel more connected to my business partners and team than I ever have. Whilst our focus has, of course, been first and foremost on our clients, we have, at the same time, been very engaged to manage the wellbeing of our own staff. No team, no company!

We have worked harder than ever to engage the entire team in small and larger groups – and the contact and engagement has worked very well. This ensured that we were aware of their concerns, the personal challenges they were facing, and could give them the support they needed to ensure that they remained positive, motivated and best placed to maintain good mental health - at all times. That focus has really defined us over the course of the year.

Conversations have been about more than simply business or the company; there have been many points to discuss and, as a privately-held family firm, operating autonomously within the UK, we have been able to support our team in a meaningful way on many levels. Small things often make the difference, and we have engaged in all sorts of activities over the last year to ensure that we stayed together as a team and maintained morale. We sent gifts at Easter and hampers in celebration of St George’s Day and St Patrick’s Day, we organised a Burns Night Haggis supper, cocktail parties, and hired expert chefs to prepare individual gourmet festive feasts, delivered to every member of the team, for our first virtual Christmas party lunch. We have stayed really connected throughout.

Q: What do you expect to be the enduring impact on the financial sector from the disruption caused by COVID-19?  Do you see working from home as the most significant change we have experienced? Do you worry that the younger generation entering the workforce will find it difficult to adjust?
I am not worried about how the working environment may or may not look in the future. The Bordier team has shown me what they can deliver for our clients and their ability to adapt - not just in the last year but for the last decade. Whilst some roles clearly lend themselves better to an office-based environment, many of us have found that we can work perfectly well from home - and I work with people I trust to get the job done. We have a flexible blueprint for returning to the office as things are still in a state of flux, and we are therefore adapting our plans month by month.

One of the activities I am looking forward to most on returning to the office is re-engaging with our commitment to reducing homelessness in London. The team has been actively involved in numerous programmes over the years, offering practical assistance and support on the ground, distributing bags laden with items to support the health and personal hygiene of those on the street. That’s been really important to the team over the years. We have supported some eight charities over the course of the last year, with every event organised by our social committee raising funds for a good cause, our 70s-themed wine and cheese tasting included.

Q: How would you judge the Bordier client experience over the course of the pandemic? Virtual meetings accepted, how has your service delivery differed? As we exit lockdown and look forward to life with most of our freedoms restored, how do you see your client service model evolving?
We are judged by our clients, so I have always insisted on seeing every communication where a client has complimented us - likewise if there has been a misunderstanding, error or an issue on client service, these are all scrutinised by independent compliance consultants to ensure that we have followed best practice and can learn from the occasions on which we have come up short. Our clients have shared with us that, as a firm, we have looked after them very well over the last year - as we always have.

Our goals and values are as they have always been – namely to provide our clients with a sector-leading service experience, to deliver value for money, offer a range of cutting-edge investment management solutions and consistent risk-adjusted performance over the longer term. All in all, I believe we do a very good job for our clients and our introducers.

Our culture of consistency and excellence is evident in the performance of our portfolios, the service we deliver, the clarity of our reporting and the quality of our advice - but we don’t stand still. We have intensified our communications with clients and introducers over the course of the last year, more than doubling our normal volume of communication, and that has been very well received.

Q: The pandemic has challenged everyone in the investment community, with a significant fall in share prices at the height of the crisis and heightened volatility. As asset managers, what has been your overarching message to clients over the past 14 months? 
I have been working in the industry since 1986. You pick up a lot of experience in that time, and a few scars to boot, with assets under management and company profits waxing and waning throughout. Our focus was on complete transparency with our clients, sharing with them the issues and concerns being debated by the Investment Committee, ensuring that they remained fully appraised.

Q: How does Bordier try to frame clients’ expectations in a world of very low/zero interest rates, relatively rich equity valuations and miniscule bond yields? Are you required to spend a lot of time educating clients as to what is realistic?
As much of our business is introduced by professional advisors – trust companies, financial planners, lawyers and accountants included – we know that our clients are well informed and that education is robust. Whilst our suite of educational resources is well developed and proves a valuable resource for clients, we set out to ensure that the objectives of and risks associated with each strategy can be clearly understood, whatever the client’s level of knowledge and experience. We still believe in a ‘fireside chat’, should our clients value a more traditional approach and a discussion to complement our digital efforts.

Q: What sort of investment ideas have been particularly successful over the past year or so – and why? What hasn’t panned out so well?
Contemplating the success of our investments over a year is too short a timeframe for us. Bordier is family owned and this means that we can be genuinely long term in our outlook - as our clients are. The combination of family ownership, a long-term outlook and unlimited liability at the partner level adds up to a genuine, long-lasting and complete alignment with our clients. Our introducers tell us that is something they don’t see as present in many other firms.

We have, of course, needed to be tactical on some occasions, and some of the decisions we took in 2020 have played well already. We are happy with the positioning of our portfolios and take great comfort from client feedback and investment returns in that regard.

Q: Whatever you think of the investment case for digital assets, the sector has seen rapid growth and is already sizeable in Switzerland. Bordier has already established a crypto-assets desk at group level. Could you tell us a little more about that? What position does Bordier UK take on digital assets? Is there much demand from clients for these assets? If so, how are you servicing their requirements?
Bordier has integrated Sygnum’s business-to-business banking platform and, since March, eligible international clients have been able to buy, hold and trade cryptocurrencies. We will continue to assess the regulations for crypto offerings and listen to what clients want. In partnering with Sygnum, we have been able to provide those eligible with an all-encompassing, integrated solution, empowering them to invest in these assets with complete trust. Our progress in this area surprised some, but it confirms that innovation is very much alive at Bordier.

Q: The UK-Switzerland axis is going to be increasingly important in the world of financial services as a consequence of Brexit, although that is clearly not the only reason. Given Bordier's Swiss links, how will it plan to capitalise on the two-way flow of business?
Bordier’s office in London is a UK-domiciled and UK-managed entity, with a Swiss-based shareholder. My business partners in Switzerland are amongst the smartest in the business, so I am fortunate – working alongside high-quality investment professionals on both an international and domestic footing. The Bordier family have never tried to manage the UK business but have been strong supporters and have offered valuable insights - particularly with international, offshore and resident non-domiciled clients - so we have benefited from maximum independence in building the business.

Personally, I very much enjoy my engagement with my Swiss and international team-mates, and they value their UK colleagues. In an industry where ‘foreign owners and UK management’ often struggle with each other’s culture, at Bordier we have the opposite - and that perhaps, is why it’s been such a happy and successful 10 years.

Q: What’s next for Bordier?
Whilst successful in adapting to change, I believe we have been consistent in our delivery. We have been shortlisted for, or have collected, more than 75 leading industry awards over the past eight years - awards decided by credible judging panels - so we must be doing something right. We have been chosen as WealthBriefing’s Specialist Wealth Manager of the Year for the past two years, so our approach is seen to be working; our business strategy will therefore continue in the same vein, focusing on doing what is right for clients, staff and shareholders alike.

I continue to look at the scope of relevant investment assets and how that is widening, but we will wait for those assets to come within the regulated environment and, if appropriate, we will consider deploying them within our strategies, and to extend our proposition. With administration partners and outsourced suppliers continuing to up their game, the quality of the client experience will get better and better - service standards are continuing to improve, whilst costs are driven down. All of this is good news for the investor.

Q: You have been at the helm of the good ship Bordier UK for more than a decade now and the industry has seen great change in that time. Admittedly, in the worlds of wealth management and private banking, much remains as it was. What are your expectations for the next decade - and where in 10 years will we find Jamie MacLeod?
I continue to enjoy the industry. I like my colleagues and partners. I have been leading investment companies as CEO/MD for 23 years, and at 52 believe I have a lot to look forward to in this industry. I am fortunate to have a wonderful family around me, and with a diverse range of external hobbies and interests, there is little time to ponder what comes next!

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