After being avidly persuaded by six different people to choose the bacon naan in the run up to this interview, Alex Foster sat down with Parmenion investment manager Andrew Gilbert (pictured on the right) for a spot of Indian breakfast at Dishoom in Edinburgh.
Beginning with his route into the industry, Gilbert tells me he studied economics at York.
‘Ironically, it was economics where I received my worst grade at A-level — B — solely down to one essay. I had the IMF and the World Bank the wrong way around, an error which will forever haunt me!’
‘I basically opted for York as it felt homely, and the other top choice had the economics department at the top of a big hill,’ jokes Gilbert. ‘It all worked out well; I even met my future wife in the first week of term!’
Meanwhile, Gilbert completed an internship at Capita Life & Pensions, which gave him a flavour of the finance sector. After graduating, he was offered a position at Rathbone Greenbank.
‘At the time, there were very few discretionary fund managers (DFM) with ethical intentions, and it was here I discovered my passion for ethical investing,’ he says.
Returning to our surroundings, I notice that we’ve talked for 30 minutes without touching either of our breakfasts, which is certainly unlike me. I gingerly attempt to take a bite while Gilbert ploughs on.
‘Parmenion launched its first DFM portfolios in 2008 with 10 levels of risk categorisation,’ Gilbert says. ‘We deliberately avoided terms like “cautious” or “adventurous”, as these proved to be very subjective.’
However, 2008 turned out to be the year of the financial crisis, making it difficult for the relatively new Parmenion to secure business. But its quantitative approach to risk paid off, and by 2010, when Gilbert joined Parmenion, its assets had risen to £200 million.
‘I was employee number 17, and our office was above a pub called the Tramshed, in Bath, which was very popular with fund managers!’
Now, the firm’s assets sit at around £5.2 billion and Parmenion is based in Bristol with approximately 200 employees. Gilbert is the firm’s sole employee based in Edinburgh, tasked with running Parmenion’s ethical portfolios.
‘Often clients have differences in what they deem as ethical compared to what the DFM can offer, and they have a minimal limit in terms of the assets that a client can invest in an ethical portfolio.’
‘Parmenion offering portfolios for £500 lump sums or £50 a month made them much more accessible, and offering a wide range of ethical approaches, rated A to D, which was then available across 10 risk grades, created 40 different ethical portfolios.’
The firm now has over 650 advisers offering sustainable and ethical ESG (environmental, social and governance) solutions to their clients. But it is the fact that their ethical portfolios nearly breach the £250 million threshold that is Gilbert’s proudest accomplishment.
Two hours after beginning the interview, I have snapped up the last bite of my breakfast, but I am amazed that Gilbert is yet to start his, the speed of conversation and consequent note-taking barely having permitted him a second. However, as the bill arrives, the considerably kind waitress informs us that she has taken one naan off the bill, explaining that we ‘looked like we were pretty busy’.
Truer words have never been spoken, I thought, as we brought an end to an interview which, nearly ironically, was second to naan.
GLASS HALF FULL
‘The world seems to be in generally good shape, economic indicators are broadly positive, wages are mostly on the rise and global trade remains well above historic levels.’
GLASS HALF EMPTY
‘The gradual removal of QE and desire to increase rates slowly will likely act as a medium term headwind to asset prices, but recession is always a tail risk if they drop the ball!’