Working as a graduate in asset management

What do asset management firms like Aviva Investors do?

We invest money on behalf of our clients, in a way that’s consistent with their tolerance for risk and any other constraints they give us.

The majority of our business comes from institutional investors, which are the likes of pension funds and insurance companies. When people pay an insurance premium, the insurance company invests this money until they need it to pay out for a claim. Likewise, pension contributions are invested until they are paid out as pensions.

The rest comes from our retail clients, which include the average person who’s looking for a better return from their savings than they could make in a bank account.

We invest in a very broad range of asset classes, including equities (company stocks), fixed income (corporate and government debt), real estate and more.

Why did you choose asset management over another area of finance?

I wanted to work in finance, but didn't think investment banking was right for me. I was looking for a career that would give me access to the financial world and let me work with smart and ambitious people, without sacrificing my work-life balance. Asset management seemed to offer this.

It also appealed to me because it’s on the buy-side, meaning that we make the decisions on where money gets invested. Investment banks, which are on the sell-side, give us advice related to the assets they’re selling, but the investment decisions ultimately come down to us.

I came across Aviva Investors through a ‘day in the life of a fund manager’ event they hosted, and from this went on to apply to their 10 week summer internship programme, which gave me a great insight into what its like to work here and hold on experience, which ultimately led to a place on their graduate scheme.

What does your role involve specifically?

I work in the Real Estate division, and am currently on rotation in the Retail Asset Management team. In this context, ‘retail’ refers to shops, and ‘asset management’ to looking after the underlying properties. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the properties in my portfolio are let, well-maintained and paying rent. Ultimately it is this rent that becomes the income that investors receive when they invest with us.

We spend a lot of time going out to visit properties, trying to build relationships with our tenants and planning how to improve the asset for the future. It's very practical; you're almost like the CEO of your own property business.

I tend to start my day by reading the blogs I subscribe to, which are a great source of information. You need to have an external focus to work in asset management, as the economy is a difficult thing to understand and it’s important to get a range of opinions.

There’s plenty of variety in the type of work that you have from week to week. A typical day might involve responding to emails, attending meetings and liaising with other teams who are involved in my properties. This includes the lawyers, letting agents who we work with to let out vacant units, and the property managers who take care of the building’s day-to-day maintenance. But then the next week you might be doing something totally different: For example, next week I’m going to Paris to learn more about how the up-and-coming parts of the city are likely to operate as an office market.

One of the things I really like about Aviva Investors is that you get the autonomy to manage your own workload. A typical day might broadly be 9am to 6pm, but it’s flexible – it’s more important to get the work done rather than put in face time at the office. In practice I may work late a couple of nights a week when there’s a pressing deadline, but on other days I can happily leave at five if I’m meeting friends for dinner. I’ve rarely had to cancel evening plans in the two years I’ve been here, which I’m very happy with!

What have been your highlights so far?

I’m working on a project where we are trying to automate one of our processes using blockchain technology.

I volunteered for the project in January, when one of our senior managers mentioned in a meeting that he was looking for some help. Since then, the project has gained momentum and I have become increasingly involved. It’s been an incredible opportunity for personal development.

Another highlight was interviewing senior staff from Aviva Investors, including our CEO, for a panel discussion. This was part of an event that I helped organise, which took place last year to welcome new graduates to the firm.

In terms of social events, the highlight of the year is our annual summer party. Aviva Investors uses this as an opportunity to recognise the people and teams that have done a particularly good job over the past year. Last year our summer party took place at Kensington Roof Gardens, and this year it was held at the Tower of London, in a pavilion just outside the walls. They’re always great fun!

What sort of person suits working in Asset Management?

The most important things are having an interest in how the world works and being a good thinker. I studied Economics but you don't need my background to work in this industry. Companies want to hire people who have studied a range of subjects as this leads to diversity of thought within the organisation. The important thing is being able to connect the dots between events going on in the world and how they might impact your investments.

Tell us more about the internship 

As an intern, you spend most of your ten weeks in a specific area of the business. You could end up working in our equities, fixed income, real estate, infrastructure, multi asset or client solutions teams.

Although you are staffed in one area, the internship is like an extended interview for Aviva Investors as a whole. Everyone is encouraged to speak to people in other departments to learn about what the rest of the business does, with a view to letting them discover the division that’s the best match for them.

Across the firm there is a culture of giving interns meaningful work so that they can add value. For example, the work I was doing directly helped fund managers make investment decisions.

What advice do you have for people interested in asset management?

My advice would be to read a lot. Reading around the subject is important because the world of investing touches on so many other disciplines. For example, you might want to understand more about the psychology behind decision making, or in the case of real estate, world geography and urban economics. You will even find lessons that apply to investing in what may seem like totally unrelated subjects, like science or ancient history.

If you don’t have a background in economics or finance, then reading up on these subjects and making sure you have a general awareness of what’s going on in the world is one way you can evidence your interest in them, along with joining an economics or investing society.

Finally, asset management is a competitive career path, and your success will be well worth the hard work needed to get there.

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