In this latest edition of the Lockdown Interviews International Investment's Gary Robinson talks to Michael Johnson, group head of fund services at corporate services company Crestbridge, who reveals how increased use of technology has provided some 'silver linings' during the covid-19 pandemic.
GR: How has covid-19 lockdown affected how you work generally?
MJ: One important issue which shouldn't be overlooked is that fact that working from home means you have less cultural interaction with the juniors within the company. New hires, and people who are at relatively early stages in their careers, are an incredible source of intelligence and enthusiasm. They can provide a fresh perspective on things, and can often tackle problems and issues from an acute and insightful viewpoint.
We’ve been onboarding investors much more expeditiously, through electronic identification, virtual document signing etc. These technologies existed before Covid, but the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for their implementation, and they’re now becoming much more prevalent..."
We've been holding virtual coffees across the levels of seniority within the company. Not only does this mean that our staff are getting access to different voices and opinions, but it also provides variety in terms of who you're sitting on a Zoom call with. We want everyone in the company to feel engaged and connected with one another.
GR: Describe where have you been working during lockdown and how are you coping with more remote working, i.e. the work/life balance?
MJ: I've been working from my home in Jersey - which has been great. Work life balance has been a bit more parallel, in that habits and preferences have become inverted. Webinars, for example, used to be ideal when they were held over lunch time, as you could tune in to them while you eat. Now though, I find they're better at around 4 or 5pm, which is when work is typically a bit quieter.
Whereas before covid-19 5pm - 7.30pm was a great time to get work done, now that's spent on the household diary; looking after the kids, cooking them dinner etc. and then getting back to work later in the evening.
All in all it's been fairly pleasant, but I can appreciate that at the junior level it may very well be the opposite. New starters who have flats without gardens may not have found the whole experience very enjoyable
GR: What are the biggest challenges a) for the industry and b) investors?
MJ: For the investment industry as a whole, I'd say fundraising. This is especially the case where firms are trying to raise funds for an illiquid product, where liquidity can often be at a premium. In terms of the administration for the industry, the biggest challenge there is in the supply chain. Administrators who have the shortest supply chains will tend to be the most resilient, as this affects how the service they provide is delivered.
For investors, the challenge is to look beyond short-termism, and seek out long term returns. With the market hugely discounted at the moment, it may be very tempting to start buying up cheap assets in the hope that market volatility sends them skyrocketing. But caution should be exercised here; volatility works both ways.
GR: How has Crestbridge changed how it deals with and supports managers and advisers internationally?
MJ: We're providing more of the fiduciary roles within the domiciles we operate in - so Jersey, Luxembourg, Cayman etc. Before the virus hit, board members were able to fly over to sit in on meetings and fulfill substance requirements. Now we're performing more of those duties for them.
Also the way we ourselves have been operating has been changing. We've been onboarding investors much more expeditiously, through electronic identification, virtual document signing etc. These technologies existed before Covid, but the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for their implementation, and they're now becoming much more prevalent within the industry. This is certainly some silver lining to the whole situation.
GR: How important has technology been during lockdown?
MJ: I think a lot of my previous answers here have demonstrated just how crucial tech has been over the past couple months. It has kept us all connected, and allowed people at all levels within our organization, and indeed all organizations, to communicate effectively with one another. Without this, any idea of business continuity would have completely broken down.
Also, as explained in the answer above, the situation has accelerate the rise of technologies which were beginning to emerge within the industry. They have become all the more important of late, and I don't see this diminishing any time soon.
GR: What lasting impact will covid-19 have in international investment market?
MJ: There will of course be day to day changes which will last for some time after this crisis has abated. The way we work, for example, will take a while to go back to normal, if indeed it ever does. The viability of working from home has been demonstrably proven, so I imagine there will be no rush to go back into crowded offices.
In terms of broader investment trends, I think it is a very real possibility that individuals and institutions alike will start to hedge against possible similar events in the future. Almost all aspects of society were woefully under-prepared for a pandemic on this scale, and I imagine people will be keen not to make the same mistake again. In the investment industry, this will take the form of tactical portfolio allocations and hedging strategies.