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Amanda Pullinger, Chief Executive Officer, 100 Women in Finance
Stacey Parrinder-Johnson, Chief Investment Officer, Investec Wealth & Investment
What was your environment growing up and are there any clues in that environment as to how you ended up doing what you’re doing today?
I grew up in Barnsley in the middle of the miners’ strike, which was a pretty tough environment. I am so fortunate to have had parents who really had quite strong social values. My Dad was a teacher and my Mum stayed at home at that point. She was super creative, so people would come in, and we would draw, and we would do all kinds of different things. And that’s really important because creativity, I think, really informs a job like this. A lot of people think it is just about maths, but it’s absolutely not – we also need people to think a little bit more creatively.
The other thing that I think I got from my parents was reading a lot. My parents used to give out books to people and I’m quite well known for giving out books to people in the office. So where you get knowledge from, and how you deal with it, is something that’s really informed my career so far.
What kind of books do you read?
I read anything; everybody should read everything. One book that I absolutely love is called Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner. It teaches you how to forecast, which is actually really hard, and super important for what we do. It’s about putting probabilities on the things that you think might happen, which is a really good way to think about investing and a really good way to think about life.
When you were growing up in Barnsley, you decided to go to university. Talk us through why you went where you went?
I decided to run away and join the Navy because I thought it would be cool, and I kind of liked Star Trek, which is very embarrassing to admit. So I went to the Navy Recruiting Centre in Sheffield, and they said to me, 'don’t be ridiculous, go away and go to university. If you go to university in Portsmouth they have a boat, and you can join the Navy Society. You can be the captain of the boat and do something sensible, and if it doesn’t work out, well you’ve done something sensible'. So I did.
I did European business because it sounded cool, and you got a year away. Every six months I transferred between the UK and France – I never got to join the Navy Society. Instead I did this kind of dual degree in French and English, and decided afterwards that I wasn’t quite done yet because I’d not had the proper university experience. So I went to Durham, and I did a Masters in European Integration.
Tell us a little bit about how some of the things that you studied or discovered during that period of time inform how you think today.
I think the biggest part of it was about collaboration. I always quite liked this idea that you would get all these countries coming together. That to me is a very important value that I have. When I speak to my team that I have now, I say there are three things that I’m really interested in: number one, collaboration; number two, BID [belonging, inclusion and diversity]; and number three, ESG. They’re the three pillars, if you like, of what I’m asking people to do in my team, to think about when they’re doing their work.
I think that you always get better solutions when you get a different perspective, when you ask someone else what they think. I always say that my favourite phrase is: 'What do you see that I don’t?' You don’t get that from asking yourself that question.
Before Investec, you worked for a European political advocacy group. Can you talk a little bit about what you liked about what you did there? How did this shape your move into finance?
It sounds a lot better than it was! We were in a room in Rotherham with a lady that used to work for an MP, and what we would do is we would go out and try to convince people that the European Union was a really great thing. It was fascinating because you would go out speak to people in universities and businesses, and try to convince them that this thing that a lot of people did not like, was actually quite interesting.
One day, I opened up The Yorkshire Post and there was an advert that said: ‘Would you like to be a fund manager?’ And I went, 'Yes!' It turned out that it was actually the perfect career because if you’re interested in a lot of things, you can pick what you want to look at. You can go off on a tangent, you can go on a journey. That took me into Investec, or the company that was to become Investec, and I started off as a trainee investment assistant. I started right at the bottom and worked my way up through the company to where I am now.
Tell us a bit more about how you ended up in the role you have today?
I worked for eight years in the Leeds office and really loved it. I managed portfolios, I went out to see clients. I’d built quite a good base in sustainable investing, so I got given the first account. That turned out to be the best thing ever because I got the second, and then third, and then the fourth. And to me, that’s the circle of competence: you get something, which you might not be familiar with, and then you realise you are good at it and get even better at the next thing. And then all of a sudden you’re something of an expert. I think that’s actually how everybody develops because nobody comes in and says, 'I want to be a discretionary fund manager when I grow up.’ People don’t do that, but you find out that it’s interesting. You find out by being good at it.
So I was eight years in, and I was just looking for another challenge. And the role came up on the research team here, so I moved in 2013. I covered quite a lot of funds, I made some big decisions that went the right way.
But I managed to build up an expertise, and went out and actively spoke to people about what I was doing – which I think a lot of people don’t do. You sit in your hole and you kind of do your job, and you expect to get rewarded because you’re doing a brilliant job, and you know what, you are doing a brilliant job, but nobody knows about it.
Then the role of Chief Investment Officer came up, and I thought I’d go for it. People always say that men will go for jobs with a smaller percentage of skills than women do, and I thought it would be absolutely horrific if – having told every woman that worked here that when a job comes up you should definitely do that – and then not do it myself, because that felt like being a bit of a chicken.
And so I interviewed; I went through a very rigorous process. I think it’s important to say that throughout the process, I spoke to 45 people in the business to find out what was important to them. And because I did that, there was a lot of support.
I think even if I hadn’t got the role, it would have been absolutely the right thing to do. It was so worthwhile because people tell you things that then you go, 'Oh I’m going to go and have a think about that,’ and that’s very interesting.
So it’s been a journey. I think if you were to look at it on the surface it feels quite quick, and quite logical, but the message I’ve got is that whenever I’ve put myself out there, it’s always worked out OK.
So you’re a Chief Investment Officer today: a big job, with big challenges, and big opportunities. How does the world look to you?
Right now – a little bit scary. But, if we look at our industry, I’m actually very excited for the things that we can do. There are massive opportunities, especially in female wealth and in getting different types of people interested in investing, that is a really big opportunity; it’s financial inclusion.
I always say that my job is two things, it’s comfort, and it's excitement. A lot of people think that what we do is just comfort. Actually, it’s about exciting people for the future, and there are so many amazing themes, if you look past what is currently happening. Decentralised finance is fascinating to look at; demographics are absolutely going to change; alternative energy, I mean wow, what a story that is.
There are lots of reasons to be excited, both in terms of the things that we can potentially invest in and what looks good for the next 20 years, as well as the opportunities for us as an industry to be able to get more people interested in finance, even if they don’t become those financial specialists.
How do you think long-term, when the world is changing in the short-term?
I think there’s a time for big thinking – 20 years out – and then there’s a time for process, which is right now. So the way that I manage to sleep at night is because I am absolutely confident that we are making our processes as good as they possibly can be, because that’s what you have to rely on. When everything goes a little bit squiggly, you have to have some kind of framework there.
What that allows you to do, is to deal with the situation right now in a very organised way, so then you can start thinking completely out of the box. You can’t just stop having exciting conversations; I can set up a group of people thinking about the future issues we’ve got even while we’re dealing with issues [such as Ukraine].
At Investec, we have financial planning, we have private bankers, we have wealth and investment managers and we all fit together in the business and we use a process – that’s how it works.
Let’s talk about some of the big shifts that are going on. What are the challenges for the financial services industry?
Let’s take female wealth, I’ve mentioned that as one. When it comes to what to do [with family money], the decision-maker is changing in a number of cases. So to me, there is massive potential for female wealth to come into businesses like ours.
The challenge is: How do you build confidence to actually be able to make that step? How do we support someone on their journey? Whether it’s money that you earn through a business, or whether you sell a business, or whether you get divorced, or whether you get an inheritance, I think that’s something the industry has got to deal with.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, or if you’re a woman, but the point is there is a different set of circumstances that everybody faces, so we have to have a workforce that is able to deal with that properly.
How do we support younger people? How do we support women, how do we make those interactions better? I think part of it is through a diverse workforce. To me, the challenge is so coming full circle; how do you make people understand that they can come into this industry and be successful?
I think the responsibility is on us. When I’m in the supermarket and I’m talking to people and I say, 'I do this, I do investments’. My niece is quite young, but I speak with her friends and we talk about it. And I think there’s a lot that we can do that encourages people to go out and find out something about the industry.
Let’s turn to ESG and sustainability. Is this something that clients really want? How do you embed it into an investment strategy that’s going to work?
I think of ESG as not a thing, but as a process. People ask, ‘Is this company ESG or not?’ But I think what happens then is that it forces you into a binary answer, which means you can’t have the kind of conversation around it that you really need to have.
To me, ESG is a fundamental part of how anybody should look at any investment. Why wouldn’t you consider the effects of climate change if you’re making an investment for the next 20 years? It doesn’t matter whether it appeals to your morals or not – the point is that every investment, whatever it is, it’s going to have some kind of risk or opportunity factor to it. That’s what we try to do in our investment process.
At Investec Wealth & Investment, we were very, very proud to become signatories to the Stewardship Code. Both the Stewardship Code and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment mandate you to do really good ESG analysis and guide stewardship of your assets.
We send our ESG questionnaire to every single fund manager that is on our list. It started off as four pages, it’s now 14, because of what the United Nations PRI has asked us for.
I think what happens is once you’ve done your process and you’ve got the information then you decide what you want to do with it. Some people want ethical, so that’s where you use your ESG analysis and you take out the stuff that you don’t like. Then there’s positive impact, which is where you put things in that you do want. There’s also the bit in the middle – sustainability, which is where you buy an investment that minimises the risks and maximises the opportunities.