[i3] Podcast – Interview with Fiona Trafford-Walker

Fiona Trafford-Walker is one of the world’s most respected asset consultants, but has announced to leave the company on 6 December 2019 to focus on her directorships.

In this podcast, we look back on her 25 years with Frontier Advisors, her career as an asset consultant and discuss a variety of topics, including manager selection, asset allocation and the changing landscape pension funds face today.

Trafford-Walker is a founding member of Frontier and has advised many of Australia’s largest pension funds on their investment strategy. Currently, she is a Director and member of the Investment Committee at Frontier

Trafford-Walker is also a Non-Executive Director at the Link Group, Prospa Group and the Victorian Funds Management Corporation and a member of the Investment Committee at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

She was named as one of the Top 10 global asset consultants by CIO Magazine from 2013 to 2016 inclusive. Trafford-Walker was also announced as a winner in The AFR and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards for 2016 in the Board/management category.

Overview Fiona Trafford-Walker podcast:

2:30 I’m an accidental asset consultant
4:30 You’re named as one of the most influential asset consultants in the industry. What makes a good asset consultant?
5:35 You have to be willing to collaborate
7:00 Technical skills are very important, but equally important is time in the markets
7:30 The changing role of asset consultants over the years
9:30 As asset consultants have increased their senior staff, have conversations become more focused on strategy?
10:30 There is still the need to have a blend of specialist and generalist skills
11:50 Are we already heading to having a panel of asset consultants?
13:00 Is there a good balance between the time spend on manager research and that on asset allocation?
14:30 What type of data should inform changes in asset allocation?
16:00 There is not much you can do about geopolitical risk; predicting what politicians are going to do next is pretty hard.
16:30 But trade wars are a real thing that have an effect on markets
18:00 Are the struggles of active managers, particularly value managers, structural or cyclical?
19:00 There seems to be a need to tweak the value process to allow for the new capital-light business models. But at what stage do you get style drift?
21:30 Frontier Advisors took the decision to build a platform with all their research on it, quite a brave step in an era where softcopies get distributed easily.
26:00 You spent some time arguing for lower fees in the industry. Are we at the right level?
27:30 The real change has been the internalisation of asset management by some funds.
29:00 Can internalisation refocus asset management on the long term?
30:00 Bottom draw mandates
31:00 To what extent should asset owners engage with the companies they invest in? You are on a number of boards and see both sides?
33:00 Governance certainly has changed as asset owners realise they are the beneficial owners
35:00 To what degree can you divest from companies as a fiduciary?
38:00 The challenge of developing retirement products
41:00 At the moment, the willingness to do things together [as funds] isn’t there.
42:00 What is next in store for you?
44:00 What issues come up in mentoring new asset consultants?

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