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Breakfast Club: With Esther Gilbert

Breakfast Club: With Esther Gilbert

As I enter negotiations (and negotiations are what they were) over the timing of my breakfast meeting with Investec Wealth & Investment’s early riser Esther Gilbert, my phone rings.

It is Gilbert: ‘9am? That is positively brunch!’

We settle on 8.30am at Hawksmoor; famous city steak house and, as I was to discover, home to an excellent breakfast menu.

As we sit down, Gilbert wastes no time in ordering her usual – smashed avocado and poached eggs – this is, after all, almost brunch! I opt for the mushrooms and we get to business, which for Gilbert is fixed income.

‘I’ve always worked in fixed income. As a graduate I worked on the institutional side,’ she says.

‘It’s quite unusual, most fund analysts are either generalists or focus on equities, but fixed income has always been what interests me… on a relative basis!’

Gilbert was featured in Wealth Manager’s Top 100 in 2016 and though she modestly brushes aside my congratulations, I am intrigued to find out what drew her to the ever expanding world of collectives.

‘The reason that I moved to funds and away from direct investing is because I didn’t want my skill set to become too niche,’ she tells me.

‘Historically, fixed income has been seen as government bonds, but that has changed. Thirty years ago there wasn’t really a high yield market. The fixed income universe has grown exponentially and with that opportunities have arisen.’

So aside from arranging an early breakfast meeting, what does a fixed income manager have to do to win Gilbert’s favour and subsequently, a place on Investec’s buy list?

‘What I want to understand when I meet a manager is what I can expect from them. No one manager or fund is going to perform all of the time, across all markets. If they are, that is a red flag for me,’ she says.

She continues: ‘performance is clearly important, but a fund performing how you would expect it to perform is far more important. If a fund isn’t doing what it is supposed to, that is a concern.’

However, it is not just track record and conviction that Gilbert scrutinises, she is also trying to assess the character of a manager.

‘You’re also trying to get a gauge on their personality. If someone is fairly erratic then that can translate in the way they run their fund, you may not get what you were expecting to get,’ she says.

As our breakfast arrives, complete with freshly squeezed juices, conversation moves on to the representation, or more accurately the lack of representation, of women in the industry.

‘The industry is very male dominated in general,’ Gilbert tells me. ‘There are very few women managers in the fixed income space, but representation is definitely improving. Of our fixed income buy list there are only four female co-managers.’

It is the issue of role models, which Gilbert believes is the core of the issue.

‘People need role models and from a very young age, women do not have anywhere near as many positive role models as boys. You also don’t have women encouraged to do Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects for example,’ she says.

Gilbert adds: ‘there are women that are becoming more vocal and supportive of other women, such as Helena Morrissey and Inga Beale and that is fantastic.’

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