- “At Natixis IM, we want our affiliates to do what they do best, which is to manage money, and we take care of everything else”
- “We respect the autonomy of our asset managers in their investment process and allow them to upgrade their business”
- “With greater transparency and disclosure on fees, passive investment is not as cheap as it seems”
Jean Raby, Chief Executive Officer of Natixis Investment Managers (Natixis IM) and a member of the senior management committee of Natixis, joined the firm sixteen months ago. Since February 2017, he oversees Natixis IM’s Asset Management, Private Banking and Private Equity business lines. Of French-Canadian origin, Mr. Raby began his career in 1989 as a corporate lawyer with Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, where he worked in corporate finances projects based in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Later, in 1992, he got transferred to the Paris office.
After four years, he joined Goldman Sachs’ investment banking division, where he worked for sixteen years in corporate finance, M&A, restructuring and capital markets, as well as he worked occasionally in asset management projects. He became a Partner of the firm in 2004, he served as CEO of the division for France, Belgium and Luxembourg and head of the firm's Paris office in 2006 before becoming co-CEO of Goldman Sachs in Russia in 2011. Then in 2013, he served as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial and Legal Officer for Alcatel-Lucent, the global telecom equipment manufacturer, at a time when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. A year and a half later, they were able to sell the company to Nokia for 15 billion euros. He subsequently served as Chief Financial Officer of SFR, an integrated media operator in France. But, he missed the hectic and fast pace environment of the asset management industry, so he decided to sign with Natixis.
The value proposal
Mr. Raby firmly believes that Natixis IM offers an attractive value proposition to those asset managers that want to expand their business but feel they have hit a glass ceiling in their growth. “You would be surprised by how many asset managers want to enlarge their business but, either because the pressure of the regulation or their need for investing in technology, they do not have the time or find it difficult to go through the effort of distributing their products outside their niche markets. That’s when they come to us. We want them to do what they do best, which is to manage money, and we take care of everything else, preserving the autonomy of the investment process. On the other hand, in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the US and Canada, sizable asset managers are owned by a financial institution. Their DNA is to stick with the footprint of the financial institution to which they belong to, and there is very little momentum or incentive to do something different than that of their parent company. In our case, we have the strength and solidity of a large banking group, but we are not constrained. In fact, we benefit substantially from the stability of the structure and the financial support. However, we are able to act nimbly and demonstrate the entrepreneurship of a third-party business. We manage very little of our own money, and that is a unique feature, you will not find many asset managers of our size owned by financial institutions that are so focused on third-party’s money. We are the only one, and that is an additional value-add to these partnerships, to offer the stability of a long-term shareholder,” he said.
In September of 2017, the firm made its most recent transaction. Natixis IM, which has a network of 26 autonomous asset managers affiliates, acquired a majority stake in Investors Mutual Limited, an Australian fund management company, as part of its plans to expand in the Asian region. “I would be very surprised if we do not announce one or two more acquisitions by the end of the year. It is about adding entrepreneurial teams joining us; we seek asset managers that have a strong track record of generating performance and that have a brand. That will be right set up for us, either because we bring a solution to them and the support of a long-term shareholder, or because they bring something new to us, like a platform that our other affiliates can use or a strategy or investment category that supplements our offering. We want to do business with management teams that we consider our partners,” he added.
Natixis seeks the growth of their affiliates’ business. For this, they offer a centralized distribution throughout the world. “In our business model, we respect the autonomy of our asset managers in their investment process and allow them to upgrade their business. For example, in 2015, we welcomed DNCA Finance into the group, a value equity France-based asset manager. At that time the firm had 14 billion euros of asset under management. Today, the firm has more than 25 billion euros. We accomplished that figure in only three years and with tremendous pressure on fee rates. We can maintain pricing because our clients see value -we do not sell expertise cheap-, and because there is a central management of distribution, creating a healthy discipline. We are also trying to mutualize investments on technology, finding the right balance between the investment autonomy of the affiliates and the benefits of sharing technological developments. The group is defining its digital roadmap, and we are going to add more joined development of technological innovations that hopefully will benefit everyone.”
Active vs passive asset management
Although Mr. Raby acknowledges that passive asset managers have dominated the market narrative in the latest years, the return of volatility may, in his opinion, turn the tables. “Passive investment is here to stay, but we are not going to participate in that business and we are not going to change our strategy. Volatility has returned, we may be at the end of a 35-year bond bull market and at the end of a 10-year equity market. In a more volatile and uncorrelated environment, an active approach to managing risks and chasing opportunities may make more sense. Individual investors will have a rough wake up call when they realize that with greater transparency and disclosure on fees, passive investment is not as cheap as it seems. People will hopefully start looking beyond the low fees and study the actual performance deliverance after fees, which is what really matters. When that happens, I am confident the value proposition of active management will be recognized.”
In Europe, long-term savings have not been privatized, by contrast, that has been the case in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, thus funding the savings for retirement. These countries are the fourth largest asset managers markets in the world, being China the fifth largest market, and that is mainly because they have a population 1.6 billion of people. There is a big question mark on whether, in ten to twenty-year time, those people who relied on defined contribution plans, abandoning defined benefits plans, will have enough savings for retirement. According to Mr. Ruby, experience demonstrates that people with the right incentives for long-term savings will save enough for retirement, without having to depend on the government. “At the end of the day, if it materializes that the privately arranged retirement systems are no sufficient to fulfill the needs of the population the government will have to chip in. I would hope for a bigger debate on the privatization of long-term savings in Europe. There should be greater tax incentives for people to save and a strive for the right balance. In Canada, there is a mix of both systems, people are encouraged to save through tax incentives and yet, they also have the promise of a basic retirement savings for everybody. Even the US created the 401k plans, with lots of tax incentive to do so, with does encourage people to be prepared, and I think that is the way to go. In UK, the debate is also out in the street, but unfortunately there is no enough discussion in Europe right now. In France, we are having the debate on pensions and insurance policies, trying to get some more flexibility, but I wish we could go further and discuss about private pension funds.”
The growth opportunities
Natixis IM has a history of 25 years of presence in Europe and the Americas. Their arrival in Latin America is more recent but is a key piece in their growth plans: “When I arrived last year, one of the first conversations that I had with Sophie Del Campo, -Executive Managing Director, Head of Iberia, Latin America, and US Offshore, at Natixis Investment Managers, was about the opportunity in Latin America. Obviously, we want to be careful, invest for the long term and with a steady approach. On the other hand, we think that the region is an opportunity for us to locally manufacture products, but again we need to find the right partner in the region with four characteristics: entrepreneurial character, a good brand, a good performance track record and that we can bring something to them in terms of revenue synergies, or that they can bring something to the group. This type of partner does exist, but it takes time to find it,” he concluded.