Before the Covid-19 pandemic, business developers representing major investment managers frequented the Arlanda, Kastrup and Keflavik airports on a weekly basis. Now, the interaction on channels such as Teams, Zoom and Skype has become the new norm, and this will stay the case once the impending vaccine programs are rolled out throughout Europe.
This is development especially affects investment managers covering the Nordics from outside the region. The Nordic team from EUR 1.65trn manager Pimco, for example, is based in London and its members used to travel to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland every week, which was quite overwhelming.
"We haven't travelled since the Covid-19 breakout. We have been doing virtual meetings since," Patrick Dunnewolt, Pimco’s Head of Benelux and Nordics says to AMWatch. Dunnewolt estimates that he on average has 20 virtual meetings each week.
"It has worked fairly well for us, but we miss meeting in person. But I do expect in-person meetings to come back to some extent when the virus is under control. The safety of both employees and clients is obviously most important," he says.
Robeco's Executive Director Institutional Clients Nordics, Stefan Laszlo, agrees that face-to-face meetings are important, but he also acknowledges that meeting clients from home has some advantages, since he works in Rotterdam.
"Virtual meetings certainly add value too since we're more flexible in terms of inviting other people for these calls, like portfolio managers and other specialists that otherwise wouldn't be able to join," he tells AMWatch.
The transformation involving that he is not based in a local office which is a cab ride away from his customer base makes it easier for him to schedule last-minute meetings instead of having to travel to one of the previously mentioned airports.
Christian Ledertoug, who is responsible for Denmark and Norway at UK-listed EUR 88bn manager Man Group, has worked from home in Copenhagen since March. He highlights that meetings with colleagues from the corporate headquarter in London are equally important.
"I have not been to the office in London since March, so I now spend more time on the phone, on Slack and Webex to speak to colleagues and clients. We have a weekly Webex "Minds-at-Man" talks, where Man Group employees can give 20-minute talks on areas, hobbies or activities they are passionate about,” Ledertoug explains to AMWatch.
Dimensional Fund Advisors in London subscribes to the notion of discovering advantages of online meetings.
"Adaptation was and still is critically important in 2020. While technology cannot replace face-to-face relationships, we have the tools to continue having quality conversations with clients across different regions. In some respects, meeting online has advantages because location is no longer a barrier to communication," says Thomas Poulsen who is the regional director of the Nordics at the EUR 430 quant giant.
Ledertoug's biggest desire for 2021 is to have a few more real-life client interactions than he had this year.
"Many clients still want to do physical due diligence, and they have not been able to do this during most of 2020. I am also a firm believer that the quality of a conversation is much better when conducted face-to-face," he says.
The four regional managers agree that differentiation is a key strategy, when a structural transformation is breaching an entire industry at a hitherto unseen pace. Robeco's client director Laszlo says that his EUR 158bn investment manager hosted an ESG event for its global client base which involved a presentation of its five-year expected returns outlook.
"Various external speakers dialed in and feedback was positive," Lazlo says.
Pimco had events planned in Stockholm and Copenhagen in the summer of 2020 revolving around ESG investing and private credit.
"These were obviously cancelled. We organized an interactive webinar instead, which was attended by our key Nordic clients," Dunnewolt says. As previously covered on AMWatch, Dunnewolt aims to have double-digit growth rates in the Nordic region in the years to come. He uses three strategies which he hopes can help him achieve this ambition.
Prior to Covid-19, Dimensional Fund Advisors had invested in a new 1,100 square studio where round-table discussions and international conferences were hosted. In total, more than 100,000 individuals have attended roughly 1,000 Dimensional events around the world this year, according to Poulsen.
"The use of the studio exploded when we entered a time of critical need for virtual interactions. The digital platform removes geographic barriers and our Nordic clients have found it easy to access these global insights," he says.
All the business developers featured in this article expect to spend less time traveling in the future, and spending less time on the road comes with some benefits.
Pimco's Dunnewolt mentions that he has become more effective as an employee and says that he even works more than before the pandemic, since he spends less time on the road. In fact, he has started to exercise daily before he starts to work.
"A work out energizes me and it's good for one’s mental and physical health. As we work more from home, it's difficult to differentiate between private life and business life, but it's important to differentiate. But the workout has a positive influence on me," Dunnewolt says.
Poulsen enjoys that he has the time to be a tourist, taking long walk through London and visiting the attractions which have been open. As a former professional football player, he was pleased when the football leagues restarted.
"I love to keep up with the Danish league," he says.
English Edit: Nielsine Nielsen