In this series, members of the Cerno team reflect on the crisis and provide detail on their work and domestic lives.
For our next interview, we caught up with Tom Milnes, Business Development Director, to hear how his role has had to adapt to challenges presented by the crisis, and what has kept him busy at home.
Tom, have you reconnected with or tried a new hobby during this time?
Perhaps it is the onslaught of mid-life, but I have been trying my hand at Pilates every morning with my wife since this episode began. This attempt at glorified stretching seems to be helping me to reach my shoelaces, and that cannot be a bad thing. This morning ritual is all too frequently interrupted by sniggering children bemused by their father’s lack of agility, and they are fiercely eager to join in.
We have fashioned a table tennis table out of our dining table which has been a great source of distraction and I have recently joined the Datchet Sailing Club in West London (Yes, who knew?!) to get back into sailing and windsurfing. These are pastimes that I am keen for my kids to enjoy, but that have sadly taken a backseat with life in London.
I am deep into the planning phase for a new sport called ‘Wing foiling’ that I first tried in Guernsey and attempted to perfect in South Africa last year albeit behind a speed boat. Essentially it involves a kite, a board and a hydrofoil.
Perhaps my proudest achievement during this period however, has been to teach my 7 year old son how to spin pass a rugby ball – off both sides – something I was not able to do until I was well into my late teens!
Tell me about your role, and how it has changed since the onset of this Pandemic.
I am the Business Development Director at Cerno Capital which means I mainly deal with intermediary relationships, but as my colleague Joe highlighted in his recent post, in a boutique, it is all hands on deck. The variety in the role is part of what makes it so enjoyable.
Developing new business has undeniably been challenging throughout the lockdown. Quite rightly, people have been focused on their own family and friends’ wellbeing. Investment performance may not have been front and centre in people’s minds. Priorities became prioritised, and answering the telephone or an email to a new concept or a new idea often moves down the list. Look at any species in times of trouble, they close in on themselves. Humans are no different.
Having said this, in recent weeks we have seen a broad acceptance of the challenges of working from home, and increasingly we have found client engagement levels have improved. Indeed, more recently the quality of meetings and discussions have improved considerably. The lack of commute means that often they are more relaxed, less concerned about those around them in the office environment, the boundaries of their modus operandi have moved. This has allowed us to engage with intermediaries and clients that perhaps ordinarily wouldn’t look to an investment boutique for help.
Human endeavour ensures that we adapt and as such new concepts and new ideas are being embraced. My septuagenarian mother now uses Zoom to schedule meetings with her bridge club. Youtube has become her go to website to learn new tricks from Bernard Magee, otherwise known as Mr. Bridge – Now with a heady 8.5K followers…
What do you think wealth managers are looking for in their client portfolios at the moment?
I think it is an especially tricky time for all asset allocators.
I learnt today that 25% of the S&P’s value is tied up in the FAANGMs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, Microsoft). Microsoft alone is worth almost the same as the FTSE 100.
This concentration risk is not lost on most wealth managers. The need to diversify away from the traditional UK centric portfolio is becoming more pressing. Stability, strong balance sheets and cutting-edge innovation that is scalable is sadly not always found on these great shores for many different reasons. Equally, the growth of the tech titans presents them with many valuation challenges. Our Global Leaders strategy seeks to answer some of these questions.
Having said that and despite geo-political differences, I also see a pivot away from thinking that the US is still the hegemon it once was. Intellectual property development in Asia continues to advance, often leapfrogging western IP. This has been interesting to follow first-hand in the TM Cerno Pacific Fund that my colleagues Mike and Fay manage. This trend is not going away and more wealth managers are looking into how to safely increase their allocations in Asia to take advantage of these shifts.
Have you come up with new ways of keeping connected with clients and intermediaries?
I am a keen runner and always try to get out whenever I can. I have organised several meetings with clients or intermediaries where we both run and chat at the same time. Not everyone wants to hear each other deep breathing but it’s a novel way to keep in touch. One of my clients has set up a Whatsapp running club, which has grown so quickly over this period. Lots of positive energy there to keep you motivated and a great way to keep connected.
What Podcasts do you use to keep in the Loop?
Isn’t it remarkable how many of us have reverted back to what is in effect a radio show?! It turns out video didn’t kill the radio star.
Unlike my colleagues Ion Sioras and Ed Bonsor, who would love to have Twitter injected into their veins, I prefer listening to the FT Morning Briefing; Mark Filipinos’ accent reminding me of an American info-ad selling really sharp cooking knives or a new type of orange slicer and such like.
The Economist is a favourite as well. A great friend of mine once said that they write it so that a 13 year old can read and understand it. Maybe he was trying to tell me something, but this fits and I find it a terrific source of information on a wide range of topics.
I have a few random non-work related podcasts that I also like. James Spence put me on to ‘Classic Scottish Albums’, of course. As a pseudo-Jock, I quite enjoy listening to the stories behind bands like Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, The KLF and others. I also have a nerdy fascination for ‘Inside Skunk Works’ and ‘Voices from DARPA’ – quite geeky stuff about the development of military technology.
Finally, what do you most love about working from home?
The cliché here is to say that I don’t miss the commute. Well, I quite enjoyed my commute, cycling through any elements up through Notting Hill, into Hyde Park and along Piccadilly to the Cerno Capital offices on Sackville St., always sneaking a quick peak into Sotheran’s bookshop. Arguably the greatest way to lose an hour or two in London.
I also love watching my kids walking downstairs for breakfast in the morning. If they were adults walking down like that, you’d think they were drunk. Some days they mope down like a teenager but most of the time they are wildly enthusiastic and excitable. That positive energy is a great tonic for the day ahead….
…oh, and so is stretching!