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Mike Parsons: Life on the Road

Neil Martin Talks to Mike Parsons, Head of Sales at JPMorgan Asset Management


 

Managing Director Mike Parsons, who is Head of UK Sales at JPMorgan Asset Management, proParsons JP Morganvides a quick and somewhat concise snapshot of his abilities after studying geography at Exeter University.

“I could read maps, do the colouring-in and add-up in numbers,” he says. Skills which have obviously stood him well throughout his career, as he progressed from Fidelity, into Schroders and then landing at JP Morgan in 2007.

He had three interviews when he left university, he says, and he decided that the job in financial services looked the most interesting. And he actually started in a Fidelity call centre, dealing directly with clients and getting what he described as a “fantastic” start in the sector.

“You absolutely get to understand, and it’s the one thing that’s drilled into us here at JP Morgan, that this is a fiduciary business. That we are managing other people’s money, and we put their interests first.

“You can never lose sight of the fact that there is an end-investor, and we’re investing their money and we’re entrusted to look after their money, and generate returns for them.”

Get With the Programme

Whilst at Fidelity, Parsons moved from the consumer end of the business to dealing with IFAs. Some 20 years later, he now heads up a number of teams that deal with IFA firms, life companies and stockbrokers.

Independent financial advisors are taken very seriously indeed. “We have very strong relationships with the larger regional IFAs, where we look to have regular meetings, and very in-depth, one-on-one relationships.

“I would expect my team to see their client base at least every quarter – and sometimes it’s once a month, where the firms are sophisticated in their needs. They might have five or six people doing fund selection within that firm, so we have to go and see a lot of people to understand their business.”

Parsons says that a great deal of contact comes at the quarterly roadshows which form part of the JP Morgan Asset Management Market Insights Programme. This programme is a framework of research and current market analysis that is delivered to UK advisers. The idea is to illustrate an array of market and economic histories, trends and statistics through clear, compelling charts and graphs that advisers can share with their clients.

Started some ten years ago, Parsons says that the programme has gone from strength to strength. And at the core of it all is what’s known as the Guide to Market. This is a markets-based chart book, of which there are five regional versions. It is translated into 12 local languages distributed in 25 countries.

Hit The Road

The roadshows, held in more than 20 cities held each quarter, allow JP Morgan to meet thousands of IFAs throughout the year and are each built around the particular insights of one of JP Morgan’s global strategists.

Perhaps the best well known of the current roster is former BBC Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders, who’s currently JP Morgan’s chief market strategist for the UK and Europe. She and her team produce market research and issue bulletins to advisers about key market developments, aiming to place investment implications into context.

Parsons is a firm believer in their guides and road shows. “We give our insights into capital markets, and that really is one of the best ways to help IFAs, interpreting the key trends and nuances of capital markets.”

“We are able to articulate what’s going on in a relatively simple format which is useful for their end-consumer. Obviously markets move very quickly and they are incredibly complex. So what we’re trying to do is bring clarity to the markets, so advisers can a. formulate their own thinking about asset allocation and b. articulate that to their clients.

“There is no shortage of comment and information that flits around from fund groups and the internet – the idea of this is that we can bring it all together in one place.”

Having someone of Stephanie Flanders’s standing and reputation must surely prove a big draw for JP Morgan? “Yes, without doubt. But we also have another group, within Stephanie’s team, who are bright and really good strategists, and are good at articulating the message.”

“The thing with Stephanie is that she’s asked to speak all over the world, so it’s not always possible to get her out to every venue, every quarter. But we try to make sure that she gets good air time with all of our clients over the course of the year.”

As you’d expect, the roadshows are also an important channel for selling the house’s products: “So whenever we take one of the strategists out, we then also talk about a product, a fund that we think is topical, or interesting, and relevant to the audience. So that should help to make it a commercial success for both parties.”

RDR and Afterwards

As for how the IFA industry has moved on after RDR, Parsons is upbeat: “I think that almost all of the firms we talk to, are saying that business has never been better. Obviously there are fewer advisers these days, so the simple economics of supply and demand indicates that those that are still trading should be in a better position. “

“And pretty much everybody we’re talking to is saying that there are issues about capacity. I’m not saying that all IFA firms want to grow their capacity, but they can afford to be choosy about the clients they bring on board, which is a phenomenally strong position to be in.”

In terms of IFAs’ development during the 20 years that Parsons has worked in the sector, he is also very impressed. “It has moved from a very transactional industry to a much more relationship-based profession,” he says. “Just from a simple point of view, the questions we are getting asked and the analysis that is done on our funds is so much more advanced than it was five years ago, and very much better that ten years ago – and almost unrecognisable from 20 years ago.”

Developing the Adviser Market Further

As to the future, Parsons is also upbeat. But, he adds,”the one thing we will all have to do – and this is not just specific to IFAs but everyone in the industry – is work on consumer trust. And while that sounds simple, it’s phenomenally hard for an industry, or a profession, to rebuild trust. It’s very clear that the clients who use an IFA, must be able to trust them implicitly. One of the reasons why people don’t use an IFA is cost of course, but the other is trust.”

The key question for Parsons is how collectively the industry can get consumers engaged with the financial services industry and how it properly demonstrates its ability to add value.

Market Direction

Asked what advisers are currently focusing on, Parsons says that Europe and the US loom large. Particularly important is how the new QE programme in Europe will affect the long term prospects of the euro currency and certain asset classes.

He added that IFAs are currently most nervous about the fixed interest market, as rates are at incredibly low levels which will obviously need to rise in the future.

“I also think you can expect that capital markets will be a bit more bumpy going forward than they have been. Advisors are aware of this and are positioning in diversified funds to mitigate what might happen in the future.”

Spare Time?

The interview finishes with the inevitable question about how Parsons spends his leisure time. You might think that given the intensity of his job, winding down with a gentle pastime might be in order, but Parsons says his favourite sports are those that require a liberal squirt of adrenaline. Although he admits, as a father of three young children, he gets less time to indulge in such activities than he used to. He now has to settle for a single mountain bike ride every week.

And that, together with heading up the team of intelligent people who sit within JP Morgan, ought to be enough adrenaline for anyone.

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