Get in on the ACT: Monaco FundForum 2022

A round-up of the Monaco FundForum 2022 by Stuart Alexander: lots of interesting conversations about the future of the industry.

Last week I had a very enjoyable few days in Monaco at the world-renowned FundForum. An event that I have been to on a fair few occasions over the years and something that I have always found interesting. This year was no exception, but the conversation was so different from the last time I went that it was hard to join the dots from then to now. The industry has gone through some fundamental changes in recent years, and it is clear to see that the evolution has some way to go. I listened with great interest to Henning Swabey at Calastone talk about the technical challenges for fund distribution and the panels “Crystal Ball” was required. I also spoke with Claire O’Brien at Citi who was preparing for a panel in a few weeks’ time talking about what the industry will look like in eight years’ time. For both Henning and Claire and their respective panels, the challenge for many is keeping up to date today, not 5-8 years’ time!

We can all prepare for what we know and for what we think is right such as digitisation and addressing diversity at all levels, but it becomes more problematic with things we can’t anticipate or foresee. Developments can seem to come along with seemingly increasing regularity and some are easy but many take time and knowledge in the space. SFDR/ESG is a case in point, a key discussion point at many of the panel sessions in Monaco. The fact that many companies have adopted ESG into their business probably hides a lot of “greenwashing” with the lack of experience and skill sets to actually implement the subtleties of many aspects of ESG. The industry is expected to adopt these changes, but with many bringing in some rather expensive consultants to tell them what they already know, the changes look challenging for many. However, there is an answer to the industry’s woes, namely ACT. Headed up by the team behind City Hive, Bev Shah and Mandy Kirkby, ACT is based on three key pillars. Investing in and valuing people, accountability and disclosures, and the purpose, value and visions of a business. In short, it allows a firm to be challenged and demonstrate that it has onboarded all things ESG and not just ticked a box or two for the benefits of stakeholders and customers. In Monaco Chief Flag Waver for diversity, sustainability and general good governance, Bev Shah, was talking on a panel about what firms need to do in this space and it was clear that ACT was the panacea to many woes of the onboarding true ESG credentials. It allows those of us in the industry to assess, measure and catalyse change where an investment management firm is looking to seriously take on true ESG credentials. The thing I really liked was the internal visibility which allows you to create action plans as a result. One to get involved with I think and certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Elsewhere at Monaco it was clear that the industry is going through a series of significant changes driven by investors demands and regulatory expectations. Digitisation, digital assets and improving the client onboarding process were key take-aways from the conference. I hasten to add there were many other conversations taking place but I couldn’t be in every talk, despite my best endeavours! Slow developments by the administration firms over the years have meant that investors still send a fax and wet signatures which is ludicrous in the 21st century. Equally the regulators have been slow to embrace crypto although with some understandable caution as security of the assets has been at times scarily absent. The whole digitisation of the industry is gathering pace and several excellent firms such as Fenergo are bringing forward initiatives, and in some cases the administrators have been forced to adopt their own initiatives for fear of losing the race.

Finally, the biggest sign of the health of the industry is the sheer number of people and firms who were there this year. Admittedly last year in October the pandemic was still affecting us all but a smaller conference was held; this year people returned in much greater numbers and much credit to the folk over at IMPower for pulling it all together. It was great to see conversation, debate and argument over key issues by industry leaders and stalwarts of this industry. Naturally there was some fine entertaining and thank you to my hosts on the two nights I was there. You know who you are! But as I said in an earlier blog the relationship aspects of our business have not gone away. Zoom is no replacement for good old chatting to people over a coffee or a beer/glass of wine. We benefit from that interaction and I’m sure we all benefitted from it last week.

I will be back next year and I hope to report that the industry is still in fine fettle and embracing the changes that is thrown at it. As to whether I will be there in 5-8 years time… ask me then!

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