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Thursday, 18th April 2024
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Matching the monkey Back  
Ronan Smith, head of index investing at Bank of Ireland Asset Management spends a busy day developing the growing business of offering indexation services to pension funds.
6:45am The day does not look good from here - it never does. It is only when I have walked into the kitchen, turned on the coffee machine, found some gentle music on the radio and looked out the window to see the same world I went to sleep in last night, and it didn’t seem too bad then, that I begin to get into gear. This morning, I shower quickly and breakfast even quicker to leave some precious minutes at the piano, picking out a new tune I will be using later in the day!

7:30am It is only a short drive to work even though the traffic has built up fully by now. Some people wonder why not walk since walking is what I do for sport. Treading city streets does not have the same appeal, however, as roaming the wilderness of Wicklow’s hilltops. Arriving too hot or too cold, with one arm longer than the other from the briefcase, is not how I want to start the working day. Besides, today I will be taking a trip out of the office to see a new business case.

8:00am Today is the day for a meeting with all the members of BIAM’s Index Investing Department in which we discuss forthcoming meetings and commitments and avoid any bottlenecks. These people are in two teams, one to manage the portfolios of BIAM’s indexed (or passive) clients, the other to measure and analyse the investment performance of all BIAM’s clients active and passive. I am glad to see that most of the people have arrangements to see a good number of external contacts, because ‘if you are not out there, you don’t exist’.

8:20am There have been 12 new emails since last night. I bin six of them immediately, read two and park four. There is only time at this stage to do a very quick holding response.

8:30am A quick internal meeting with Deirdre Muldowney, from the indexation team, to run through the list of outstanding sales activities. We are growing a new business here from a small base. One of our key activities is telling Irish pensions funds and their consultants about our indexation services. These days, more and more Irish pension funds are using passive management or are in the process of reconstructing their pension funds in a way that it is likely to be useful for them. Deirdre and I spend 15 minutes prioritising contacts for the coming few days in a process we are now well used to. I spend the next 15 minutes making two quick calls to pension fund executives to see whether they may be interested in the service.

9:00am Meeting with Brian Griffin who operates our passive portfolios to keep tracking errors within expectations, and Rory Coughlan, one of BIAM’s senior relationship managers, about the take-on of a new indexation client. This new pension fund will be investing, using their own chosen proportions, in Eurozone Equities, World Equities other than Eurozone and Eurozone Bonds. We will be giving them this exposure through existing large funds, managed by our partners in indexation, SSgA. This morning we review our checklist of take-on procedures to make sure that the client and everybody involved in managing their money has a common understanding of what is required.
These days, more and more Irish Pension funds are coming up with their own benchmarks in this way. A noteworthy recent case in point was the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which has a complex array of specialist mandates each with its own benchmark. We were delighted to have been appointed by them to manage a passive Eurozone equities portfolio.

9:30am Back to the phone where I make three more calls and succeed in getting an appointment to explain our services to a new fund with whom we have had no contact to date. This morning’s mail includes, of all things, an exam paper for the Society of Investment Analysts in Ireland. I have been involved in the Committee of the Society for 17 years and was recently chairman of the Society. I am still involved with one of its examinations and today I have to check on an exam paper and make sure that it meets our standard and has the correct structure. I make a phone call to Mark Merrigan of National Treasury Management Agency who has taken over the chairmanship of the body and tell him the paper is fine.

10:30am Andy Taylor from SSgA has come over from London to meet with us over a number of topics concerning the way in which we work together to provide indexation services. SSgA are one of the biggest fund managers in the world and leaders in the field of indexation. We have an affiliation agreement with them in the Irish institutional market. Effectively, BIAM carry out the front-end work and SSgA do the indexation. We have daily communication with SSgA at the operational level and frequent interaction on various developmental and control issues. Andy has come over to discuss a number of these today.

12:00pm The performance measurement team have just completed an update on BIAM’s Irish active performance analysis. They have generated a new document for internal circulation, which is due to go out today. I spend half an hour reviewing the document with Anne Golden, our head of performance measurement, and clear it for circulation. I think it will prove a very useful aid. We also have a look at how this information is condensed for demonstration on the intranet site. This has proved a very useful tool in recent years for giving BIAM staff quick access to relevant information.

12:30pm Into the car with John Conway, head of institutional business development, to drive to Bray for a presentation to a prospective client. John and I grab a quick soup and sandwich on the way and discuss a few final points relating to how we will make the presentation. This is a defined contribution pension fund that wants to include a Consensus Fund in its range of options. We hope to show them that our very tightly controlled way of managing passive money will best meet their needs. By the time the presentation is over it is 3.20pm. We have had a broad ranging discussion on investment issues and on the passive investment approach. I need to make a few phone calls including one to Bernadette Godley who I am due to meet at 4.00pm - but I am going to be a little late.

4:10pm Bernadette Godley is the head of marketing and today we are sitting down to plan a seminar on indexation, which BIAM will be holding in April. Today we are finalising the speaker line-up for this event to which we will be inviting major Irish pension fund executives and consultants.

5:00pm There is just time for a quick meeting with my management team colleagues about the overall shape of this year’s budget before we finalise the numbers for the indexation business.

5:30pm The highlight of the day! A group of us retire to a quiet part of the building for a little music practice. It is a great way to finish off a busy day. We can see each other’s talents and, indeed, each other, in a whole new light. We will have fresh enthusiasm for tomorrow. Now what was that song I worked on over breakfast?

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