David S. Wong interviews Michael Kerr-Dineen, CEO and co-founder of Cheviot Asset Management.
Michael Kerr-Dineen is one of those financiers whose focus on class and quality can only be overshadowed by his determination to deliver on his promise. He has demonstrated this by walking away from giants such as UBS to prove that business can be done with complete honesty and integrity. As the former Chief Executive Office of UBS Liang & Cruickshank, Michael led 80 bankers out the door when he left UBS to form Cheviot in 2006. In less than five years, Cheviot became one of the UK’s largest independently owned investment firms with over £ 3.8 billion in assets under management.
Below is an extract of an interview with Michael Kerr-Dineen, published in full in B Beyond magazine’s Autumn 2012 edition.
BB I would like to ask you about your views on the current Euro debt crisis.
MKD I am very bearish about the whole thing with its political side. Europe was in denial about it for a very long time and I think they are probably just coming out of the denial stage. You just cannot engage in quantitative easing without longer term implications. The fact is, whatever they do in relation to piling money into the economies, the debt simply will not go away.
It is down to Germany who has obviously benefited from the whole situation. They are famous for taking decisions in their own economic interest, almost prepared to subjugate their political freedoms for their economic interest. However, for the first time you see splits within the German elite as to whether this is a good idea or not. It was always unwise to have a single currency without a genuinely integrated fiscal and monetary policy as well. So inherently there was a flaw from day one. Greece, Ireland and Portugal were relatively minor problems. Italy is obviously a big problem, Spain is a big problem, and the French banks too, both in their domestic markets and their sovereign lending. Even without the benefit of hindsight, it was always ridiculous to have a single currency system without integrating fiscal and monetary policies. Interest rates will continue to remain low for the foreseeable future.
BB What advice would you give people looking to set up their own firm like yourself?
MKD It is tough. It is perfectly clear that the trend is to move away from big organisations into smaller boutique firms. Part of the reason why it is difficult to start a fund is that you need a brand and a track record. It’s difficult to differentiate yourself from the rest and I think in some ways we have managed to do that at Cheviot. You will also need strong relationships and credible base team to establish a critical mass.
BB What do you think is the greatest pitfall of the finance sector as a whole? Or the greatest opportunity going forwards?
MKD The IFA (Independent Financial Advisors) and RDR (Retail Distribution Review) debate will certainly create big opportunities for the discretionary fund managers like us. The IFAs are just bailing out which will create opportunities for us. I think the structure of investment management firms is also important and I like to think that we have got it. There is still a lot of money out there that is not managed by anyone and accessing it through IFAs is a distinct possibility. Most of the inflows we get are generally new money. People are also moving to a more personal approach due to the bad performance of mutual and pension funds. Structural changes in the industry will force private banks and some wealth managers to move up the value chain, quit the market or seek a managed exit.
NB. Six months after the initial interview was conducted, Michael’s bearish outlook of the European Debt Crisis from the political perspective continues to unfold. Spain and Italy’s borrowing costs continue to soar as the European Central Bank cut interest rates to a record low of 0.75%. The US Federal Reserve is expected to keep short-term interest rates close to zero “at least through to late 2014”. Cheviot Asset Management won the Best Performing Fund Award for its Libero Cautious Fund in March 2012. Cheviot’s Liverpool office, its first office outside of London, attracted £170m of funds under management in its first year.