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Investment-fund industry needs ‘female touch’

27-02-2015 | Insight | Peter van Kleef Every Friday chief editor Peter van Kleef discusses thought-provoking topics with Robeco experts. This time: the endangered female portfolio manager.

Summary:
  • Female portfolio managers – an endangered species
  • Diversity leads to better decisions
  • Three criteria a good portfolio manager must meet

An endangered species. That's what the Financial Times called female portfolio managers this week. They were already in a minority, but since the financial crisis, the percentage of female portfolio managers in the US has declined from 10 to 7%.

And that's a problem – a problem that has to be solved by the remaining hordes of white men, who incidentally are largely to blame for the problem in the first place because ‘white men hire white men’.

The other oft-repeated reason for the declining percentage of women is the investment-fund industry's damaged reputation. Women prefer jobs that make a more visible contribution to society. The exodus of women from the investment-fund industry leaves the remaining men – and ultimately also the end investors – with a two-dimensional problem. Firstly, mixed teams are better at decision-making and secondly many studies indicate that women make better investors.

“You have to believe in diversity, as the value it adds cannot always be expressed in hard numbers,” claims Arlette van Ditshuizen, portfolio manager within the Quant team. “And we work in a sector where ultimately it's all about performance and hard numbers.” What's more, she thinks that men are more likely to be hired because they are better at presenting themselves as the ideal candidate in interviews.

Taking the plunge
“Men are more willing to take the plunge. Not only can they take decisions more quickly, they also want to. The disadvantage is that the main thing they remember is what they did right.” And this leads to overconfidence and greater risk-taking in investment portfolios. According to Van Ditshuizen, men are also more impulsive and less disciplined.

What's more, men are by nature more comfortable with numbers (“ask a man how his year went and he'll start talking about figures, his profits or his bonus; while women generally talk about their parents' health, how the kids are doing at school and oh, by the way, work's going well, too”). Men are also more likely to be attracted by the relatively high pay in the sector.

However, Henk Grootveld, portfolio manager at Rolinco, doesn't think that female investment-fund managers are an endangered species at all. So, a storm in a teacup. “It is a cyclical phenomenon.” The sector is under assault from all sides and as a minority in that setting you have to be very sure of yourself. But “in twenty years’ time, 40 to 50% will be women. It’s inevitable.” And also a logical result of the fact that more women are highly educated, says Grootveld. “Twenty years ago there were almost no women doctors, but now three-quarters of new doctors are female.”

Cultural revolution
We can expect to see this development in the world of asset management, too. According to Grootveld, this would represent real progress. “Essentially, the sector desperately needs women. At the moment, it's a real macho culture where the chief rooster prefers to hire slightly weaker roosters who he’s sure he can be the boss over" says Grootveld. What's more, the financial sector is becoming less attractive to genuine alpha males, now that the exorbitant bonuses are being capped by politicians.

Will that eventually lead to a different culture in the industry? “Let's hope so,” says Grootveld. Possibly even to better returns as well, because women trade less and are more cautious. Further, Grootveld argues for diversity that goes beyond merely a discussion on gender. He would like to see fund managers with other backgrounds – not just the economists and econometrists who currently make up the vast majority. “People with different backgrounds, qualifications and ways of thinking add value.”

According to Grootveld, an investor must satisfy three criteria: “He must be inquisitive to the bone and read newspapers from cover to cover, have a strong desire to win – which already counts many women out – and, finally, be able to navigate his way confidently through a maze of information. Having hair on your chest is not a prerequisite for meeting these three criteria.”
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