Europe Gets a Lesson in Key-Person Risk

A recent Bloomberg article reminds us that a single person can bring down a firm, as illustrated by the unwinding of Swiss Investment firm GAM Holding AG and the troubles of former star stock pickers like Neil Woodford.

GAM reportedly lost nearly 40% of its assets and most of its market value since suspending Tim Haywood (who ran the firm’s largest bond funds), and Woodford “froze his fun after veering into unlisted equities” and announced plans to close his firm.

The events, the article notes, have “shaken the region’s asset management industry to its core,” citing comments from Morningstar fund researcher Peter Brunt: “It’s no surprise that we have seen many investment firms take action to minimize the impact of key-person risk more recently. There is now a greater emphasis on governance within asset managers.”

Fidelity International is listed as one of the firms turning its focus to key-person risk—last year, it introduced more co-managers at some of its stock funds in a “conscious move toward more team-based investing.” A Fidelity spokesperson explained: “We firmly believe clients benefit from a strong and deep team of investment professionals to manage their portfolios.”

But the article points out that even co-managers offer no guarantee should a key person stumble. While Haywood had two co-managers to keep the GAM funds running, his suspension still triggered an investor exodus “because it wasn’t clear what exactly Haywood was accused of doing.”