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Investing in the future – what aspiring finance experts need to know

China, climate change and social virtue – a career in private  wealth/investment management is now about so much more than the figures. Investment expert and Cambridge MBA alumna Janet Mui (MBA 2010) gives an insight into the breadth and depth of skills investment professionals need to have, now and in the future.

Janet Mui from the MBA class of 2010.
Janet Mui (MBA 2010)

“Being knowledgeable about trends, sensitivity and flexibility to clients’ wishes and carving out your own unique selling point – this is what it takes to succeed in investment management now. Nowadays, just managing money as an asset is not enough and you need to be much more rounded in your skills and approach.”

Janet Mui’s summation of what constitutes building a successful career in investment management reflects her experience over the past decade, since completing her MBA in 2011, as a leader in investment strategy and research at Cazenove Capital, which is the private wealth management division of UK investment giant, Schroders. The company’s global economist, Janet tracks macro developments and advises Cazenove’s investment committee, which manages more than £50bn worth of assets. She is also their macro spokesperson, providing analysis on industry trends to the media. 

Market trends

In a wide-ranging conversation, Janet spoke to us about the trends in investment globally, how to approach building the right skill-set to be attractive to the industry, and what it’s like to be a woman in a sector which remains very male dominated. She started with a precis of the trends shaping the international arena:

“Overall the trends are positive. There is a lot of opportunity, especially in the UK, where a whole new tranche of investors has emerged from the freeing up of pension regulations. Global wealth is increasing, despite wealth inequality, with new highly discerning, socially and environmentally aware clients who want to make a difference as well as make money. This, in turn, is driving innovation and diversity in products, far beyond the traditional stocks and bonds. The whole sector is becoming increasingly interesting and intellectually challenging.”

Market challenges

Alongside the opportunities, Janet cites complex challenges that accompany the trends:

“Competition from low cost Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs); clients increasingly seeking passive rather than active management; cost pressures driving down fees; increasing automation in the sector; industry consolidation as rising regulatory costs drive companies to merge. The latter trend of mergers creating big, powerful players, in turn makes it extremely challenging to be entrepreneurial in this space, so if you want to be an entrepreneur, you had better have very innovative and interesting products. There is no room to be boring in this very dynamic landscape – but there’s no risk of being bored either!”

With growing concern about the environment, and influential figures such as Bank of England chief, Mark Carney warning about the impact of climate change on the finance industry, Janet advises aspiring investment fund managers to become knowledgeable on environmental issues and governance. Likewise on social issues:

“Investment professionals will always need to adapt and re-invent their skills to stay competitive. Clients are increasingly concerned with making a positive social impact as well as a financial return, so you must mirror your clients’ concerns and be well versed in mainstream global issues such as climate change, biodiversity and social shifts and needs. You may be the best fund manager in the world, but if you have no deep understanding of these issues you will find your career progression limited.”

Emerging economies

Emerging economies also constitute a trend which presents lucrative opportunities. While investment returns are getting harder to come by due to low interest rates across Europe, growth is increasingly found in markets such as China and Asia generally. Janet comments:

“China is a huge power, growing in strength, and the rapid developments it is making on all fronts are having a major impact on the global economy. At Cazenove, we are shifting our exposure more globally and more to China and Asia, as well as keeping a firm foothold in the UK. Anyone looking to enter the sector should be watching what is happening across Asia carefully and building up good knowledge and a strong global, holistic perspective.”

Career journey and advice

With a background and base in Hong Kong, Janet completed an undergraduate degree at the LSE with a First in Economics in the UK before returning home. But she missed London and soon had her eye on an MBA:

“I wanted to work in London because it is such a cosmopolitan city and the European headquarters for many prominent asset management companies. I like the lifestyle and diversity of workforce in the UK, and the proximity to other European cities for business and leisure. I pursued the Cambridge MBA to gain a practical master’s degree from a prominent UK university.”

Bearing in mind the kinds of skills the fund manager of the future will need; how did the MBA prepare Janet and what sort of mindset should an aspiring MBA candidate bring to the programme if they wish to exit into such a role? For Janet mindset is crucial:

“If you are settled on going into a financial role after an MBA you will need to tailor your programme from the start. Obviously do the finance concentration, but also among the plethora of opportunities available in terms of events, talks, clubs, people, make sure you target those that will yield the best learnings and contacts for you. There is so much on offer intellectually and socially that it is easy to get distracted, but being decisive and targeted about what you engage in, alongside the core requirements of the programme, will position you well when it comes to applying for roles in the investment industry.”

A woman’s perspective

Her own targeted and tailored approach while on the Cambridge MBA resulted in Janet securing a role with Cazenove prior to finishing the programme. The lone woman in an investment committee of fifteen men, she also has advice for women wishing to enter the industry:

“I feel you still have to work harder to prove yourself when you are in a minority. The space is still very male and pale, and while the industry is working to address this, change will take time. That said, I have received great support and been offered good leadership programmes for women, so companies are working hard to support their female staff. The best way you can ensure your success as a woman, or indeed anyone, is to carve out a niche in which you have your own unique selling points. For me that is my language, heritage and work experience in China, which has enabled me to position myself as an expert on China. I have also worked hard to develop good media skills which allow me to be an expert spokesperson for my company. Anything that makes you special will help to make you successful.”

An eye on the future

Looking to the future, Janet wants to stay in a sector she loves but looks forward to taking on increasingly senior roles:

“I hope to go on representing the company on all macro matters, helping clients make sense of the financial markets, and establish my reputation as a trusted strategist for the UK and international media. I love working with clients and find it very satisfying to help them pursue the investments that are right for them and get good returns, so I want to continue doing client engagement and business development. Things are set to get even more fast-moving and exciting in the sector, so I am really looking forward to what the future brings both in my industry and professionally.”

Janet Mui is speaking as a panellist at the Wo+men’s Leadership Annual Conference on 14 March.

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