This week’s lunch was rather special, writes Anna Dumas. My dining companion, Bob Devine of Sturgeon Ventures, celebrates 50 years in financial services in September.
What better place to celebrate a golden anniversary than in the gilded halls of Brasserie Zedel in Piccadilly? A bastion of 1960s style, it refuses to give up old school glamour for the sake of modernity.
The same can’t be said of my near-septuagenarian fellow diner however, who despite his years in the business has recently taken on a new venture. It was our first topic of conversation as we raised a glass of Crément to toast half a century in international markets.
Last October, Devine – who has worked all over the world on both the buy and sell sides of fixed income – shelved his third attempt at retiring to launch a portfolio management service solely for charity clients.
I asked, what drew him to the sector?
‘I’ve had a great run of it in this industry and I wanted to do something to give back,’ he said.
‘Pure charity work might have been an option but I’m still fascinated by markets and I’m still learning all of the time, so I’m just not ready to stop. This was the perfect way to work in those two passions.’
Further sweetening the deal, he said, is that his fixed income expertise is a natural fit for this particular client base.
‘Say a charity has a project which needs funding – a hospital building for example. They’ve raised the money and they need to release capital at different times for different parts of the project
‘If that capital is in equities, they don’t know if they’re going to be taking it out in a bull or a bear market, but with fixed income I can create a portfolio of investment grade bonds with set maturity dates, so they always know how much they’re going to get.’
The venture hasn’t all been smooth sailing however. An early stumbling block arose when they realised that the Financial Conduct Authority treats all clients under £10 million of assets as retail clients.
‘Seeing as we’re a small boutique, most of our clients were going to be under that number, so we had to go back to the drawing board and find a retail partner,’ Devine said.
This is where Quilter Cheviot came in. Devine called old Stock Exchange chum William Eason, Quilter Cheviot’s director of charities and explained the situation. A few months later, a deal was made. Devine, under the regulatory umbrella of Sturgeon (an incubator company for boutique asset managers) works directly with Quilter Cheviot, managing the fixed income portion of the clients he introduces.
The project is now well under way, and as we tucked into a glorious herb crusted rack of lamb, Devine explained how he now has the time to construct portfolios as well as concentrating on his other pursuits.
What were these? Cricket, perhaps? I thought. Or a position on a charity board or two? Not quite.
Devine has positions on the European Bond Commission, the European Society of Financial Analysts, the Institute of Directors, the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Worshipful Company of International Bankers.
‘My friends all think I’m mad to keep working, but why on earth would I stop?’ he said, (my choking on a piece of potato probably indicated I was of the same mind as them).
‘I’ve got all of this experience so I don’t see why it should be wasted, particularly in interesting times like these. Above all though, I love what I do – it keeps me in markets and it keeps me young.’
As a cafetiere of black coffee arrived for me and a crème brûlée for Devine, we talked about his early days in the industry.
I wanted to know how a blue button in the Birmingham Stock Exchange in the 1960s made his way to becoming such a prominent fixture in the bond world.
‘Birmingham was a good start. I was working for the same firm my father did, but I quickly wanted more. Then came London, and despite saying that I would eventually return to the Birmingham firm, Wall Street starting to look quite tempting.’
However, due to the political situation in the US (it was the time of the Vietnam War), Canada proved more attractive. Devine instead decided to work for the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto.
‘Those times, and perhaps the mid 1980s at BZW, were the most fun I’ve had in my career.
‘That’s why what I’m doing now is so satisfying. This industry has given me a lot over the years, and in this small way, I’m giving back.’