Austen Robilliard is our Fund Selector of the Month. He is Head of Investments at Murdoch Asset Management Ltd. Austen Robilliard joined Murdoch Asset Management from Towry Law as a trainee investment analyst in 2007. He is responsible for managing advisory and discretionary portfolios, idea generation, training analysts and researching funds. His tasks include analyzing investment portfolios, constructing portfolios for new clients and re-positioning existing portfolios, as well as managing a team of analysts and training the next generation of fund selectors. He is also responsible for the development and implementation of company procedures relating to research, analysis and client reporting, as well as meeting fund managers, strategists and analysts to help shape our investment strategies. Austen has become a well-known and respected analyst within the UK funds industry, having been voted into Citywire’s Class of 2013 Top 30 Under 30, being a top-ranked member on Sharing Alpha and leading his company to winning multiple accolades with Investment Week and Portfolio Adviser.
What do you think leads to success in the investment industry? Can you give some advice for people starting a career in asset management?
I believe there are three ingredients to success in any walk of life; passion, hard work and a slice of luck. Hard work should not be underestimated, there are some really clever people in our industry but intelligence alone will only get one so far. My advice therefore, would be to keep trying and keep learning. Don’t be put off by not understanding something immediately – your career is a long game.
What is the greatest challenge as a fund selector?
Personally I find being wrong challenging. We are analysing funds with a view of generating excess returns, but no amount of research or due diligence can guarantee success. If a fund manager can get 55% of their decisions right, they will add value over the long-term and the same concept applies to fund selectors. The higher the better obviously, but even at levels of 70% (which few attain), means 30% of what you buy under-performs.
How did your day-to-day change since you began working from home, and do you have any advice during these challenging times?
The first lockdown was challenging as my kids didn’t understand the concept of working from home – with interesting results! I have also found I am working longer hours, which has made the work/life balance challenging. My advice to anyone reading this, we are not superheroes. We are doing the best we can in trying circumstances and admitting “I am not OK”, is not a failure. Mental health is so important, especially in the cerebral industry of investment management and having bad days is normal.
What has been the most extraordinary thing you have seen in the markets? Were the market scenarios/volatility caused by the health crisis shocking to you?
I learnt a long time ago to not try and guess what markets will do or how they react to certain news. The speed of the Covid-19 sell-off in Q1 was savage and like nothing I have ever experienced before.
What aspects do you consider most important when selecting a fund for a portfolio?
As active investors, our selection criteria is based around the fund managers themselves and the investment processes they employ. I find having experienced and proven people employing a well-defined and robust process is a good formula for future alpha generation.
Which assets do you think will perform better in 2020 considering the current market situations? Which assets are performing well under stress scenarios?
I avoid making short-term predictions on the direction of any investment, instead I focus on the long-term fundamentals of funds. Quality growth and technology have been the places to be invested during 2020 and this makes sense given the wider environment. I don’t however, subscribe to the idea that value as a style is dead. We are in a longer phase of the cycle, which has been extended by quantitative easing. As such, we hold both growth and value focused funds in our portfolios. Should this trade reverse (there have been many false dawns), you need to be positioned for it beforehand to reap the maximum benefits.
Could you name any alternative investment options with high and long-term potential even during the current crisis?
Within our portfolios we hold meaningful allocations to infrastructure, especially private finance initiatives (PFI). We like the secure nature of the cashflows, high levels of inflation linking and they offer attractive yields. Although they weren’t immune to the Q1 sell-off, they recovered these losses quickly and I believe they still offer compelling risk/return profiles.