Having previously had the pleasure of meeting EQ Investors’ Sophie Muller, it was no surprise that our city lunch at The Folly began with some ‘friendly’ football teasing. Given that we support two diametrically opposed teams from North London, you would expect nothing less, writes Steve Plowman.
My obvious starting point is to enquire what drove Muller to choose evil over good. ‘Having been born in Highbury, there was only one team for me!’ she says. ‘I went to my first match when I was six months old – Arsenal vs Tottenham! Arsenal won, obviously.’
‘While I can’t remember that match in particular, I’ve enjoyed watching Arsenal beat Tottenham on many occasions since. My mum and I are proud owners of season tickets at “The Library”, and we both enjoy a good prawn sandwich at half time!’
Having put our slightly childish jostling aside (for the time being), I move the conversation on to Muller’s sharp career progression. She was promoted to head of research in autumn last year, making her responsible for a six-strong team covering open and closed-ended funds. I ask how she has found the step up.
‘While I can’t say it’s been a walk in the park, it has certainly been rewarding to date. In terms of leadership, my focus has been ensuring I’m getting the best out of each (very different) team member.’
Muller continues: ‘At a personal level, it has been about supporting the junior members, developing their own style as analysts, and making sure their voice is heard within our discussions with those more experienced.’
Having begun her career at Bestinvest in 2011, she was approached by company founder John Spiers, to join the research team at his new venture. Muller admits she ‘struggled to play hard to get’.
‘In terms of my career, the opportunity to join a new and exciting project in its early days was very enticing. I felt that I had a strong grounding as an analyst from my years at Bestinvest, and was given the chance to take on more responsibility and really have an impact.
‘As a (reasonably) young and ambitious research team, we were able to shape the investment process to ensure we were identifying the best opportunities, from both an asset allocation and fund selection perspective.’
Now running a buy list of more than 100 funds, Muller is forthright that there are many benefits to being a smaller firm amidst a backdrop of wider industry consolidation.
‘Given the size of EQ and our current assets under management, we are able to take advantage of the smaller boutique-esque opportunities that the larger players can’t, due to liquidity constraints. In addition, we can access a number of the investment trusts that others can’t for similar reasons.’
EQ also run a range of Positive Impact Portfolios, an offering Muller feels sets the firm apart from its competitors.
‘These portfolios are aimed at investors who want to make a positive impact to society and the environment as well as a financial return,’ Muller explains.
‘Our Positive Impact Portfolios are a real differentiator for us. Our aim is to establish these portfolios as the pre-eminent solution for all ethical investors.’
As well as its client offering, it is clear the firm is keen to offer its staff a positive environment and build a close-knit team, which Muller informs me, is best done in the Swiss Alps.‘We had our inaugural EQ Investors ski trip this year in Engelberg, Switzerland. The fact that the snow quality was not up to scratch was secondary, we had four days of team bonding in the sunshine… I’m looking forward to next year already!’