The “new abnormal” is set to continue. There are important implications for Wealth Management

Key WELREX® insights from the recent AQR Institute Insight Summit

Senior members of the WELREX team attended the recent AQR Asset Management Institute Annual Insight Summit at London Business School. 

The team enjoyed the wide-ranging conference content, which included extensive discussion of all things Crypto and a deep dive into the contextual macro factors which will influence the Asset Management industry and global economies in the coming months and years. 

Speakers included:  

  • Christine A. Parlour, Chair of Finance and Accounting, UC Berkeley Haas 
  • Paolo Ardoino, CTO of Tether 
  • Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board, European Central Bank 
  • Patrick Honohan, Honorary Professor, Trinity College Dublin, and CEPR 
  • Jordan Brooks, Principal, AQR Capital Management 
  • Dr. Nouriel Roubini, CEO, Roubini Macro Associates LLC    
  • Richard Portes, Professor of Economics, London Business School / Academic Director, AQR Asset Management Institute 

Following a productive networking session and over a casual team dinner, each of the team shared their key observations from the event in relation to the WELREX vision and mission.

Challenging times 

Yevgeni Agerd, Founder & CEO kicked off by reflecting on the ten “Megathreats” articulated by Nouriel Roubini:

“Roubini paints a dark picture – warnings about the debt crisis and bailout trap, stagflation and currency meltdown, AI job destruction, new cold war, and climate catastrophe, amongst others.  Some key points stood out for me:  

  • In the West, the debt/GDP ratio is higher than it was when we came out of WWII and Great Depression 
  • The concept of “geopolitical depression” – outright deglobalisation or at least “slowbalisation”, and offshoring being replaced by “friendshoring” – will have knock-on effects on capital flows 
  • The “weaponisation” of the USD and the potential for Geopolitical division between the US and China has the potential to drive their respective allies to favour either USD or RMB as their predominant currency – not both

Whether they all materialise or not, these headwinds – geopolitical and economic, global and domestic – will have impacts on our sector which we need to be aware of and embed in our operating models.”  

Chief Operating Officer Glenn Berry picked up on the economic theme from the comments of Roubini, Honohan, and others: 

“Today we heard a lot of doom and gloom which, at face value, suggests no signs of any positives in any timeframe like our lifetime! Relating it back to Wealth Management, it could mean people will either want to make money in the short term or give up altogether. A more considered view would see bumpy outcomes for the foreseeable future with some relatively safe havens. I would imagine WELREX clients will be looking for that more considered view and advice on where the ‘safe havens’ are.  

In this context and in the face of a tough economic outlook, with returns difficult, high-quality Relationship Management becomes more important than ever” 

Crypto – threat or opportunity? 

In the conference, ECB Executive Board Member Fabio Panetta railed against unbacked Crypto and emphasised the need for central bank-governed alternatives.  

WELREX Investment Director Stephen Ashworth acknowledged that the event tried hard to present a balance of views on Crypto – an academic commenting neutrally, participants presenting the investment and economic positives, and the regulator warning that, if unregulated, crypto had the potential to wreak significant damage – but he was especially animated by the ECB’s view on Crypto: 

“It’s clear to me that the chasm of knowledge between those in the crypto industry and the central banks remains as wide as ever. For all the ECB’s words implying an understanding of the potential of blockchain, it clearly needs to do more to understand the true way in which crypto tokens /digital assets can change the financial system – or maybe they do understand and are just scared by it. I feel the jury is also still firmly out on whether to regulate and legitimise crypto or not regulate and hope it goes away”. 

Left to right: Glenn Berry, Stephen Ashworth, Yevgeni Agerd, Joe Clift, Lorenzo Caffarri

Digital transformation continues apace but needs to keep the customer in mind 

Step changes in digital functionality continue to pervade finance as many other sectors. Speakers across several sessions underlined the critical importance of transparency, clarity, and ease of use to ensure industry and end-customer adoption and confidence.  

Chief Digital Officer Lorenzo Caffarri underscored the opportunity to capitalise on developments – especially digital – in customer management practices and customer experience (CX): 

“The winners will be those who invest smartly in the digital tools and solutions which best meet their clients’ needs. RMs need to be able to provide data to their clients the way those clients want; clients need to be able to self-service if they want to. So, it’s critical for the best wealth management platforms to have the embedded flexibility to “toggle” as needed to meet the client’s need”. 

Building on this, Chief Marketing Officer Joe Clift stressed the importance of remaining tuned into the “voice of the customer” in good times and bad: 

“From a brand and marketing point of view, there’s strong documented evidence from previous recessions and economic crises, that brands and businesses who have stayed closest to, listened hardest to, and responded best to the needs of their customers or clients, have emerged the strongest. I see no reason to believe differently this time” 

In conclusion, Yevgeni struck a pragmatic and positive note: 

“In the short to medium term, it’s clear we face a “new abnormal” – continual disruption in geopolitics, finance, and economics. Disruption demands agility – in business models, operating models as well as strategies and tactics.

The good news is that we built WELREX to be inherently agile – so we can adjust focus, as needed, to private markets (PE/VC/Real estate development finance) and alternative instruments (hedge funds, algo trading, absolute return). Our initial customers clearly welcome this flexibility as part of our DNA.” 


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