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Quill is delighted to congratulate clients, AVI Global Trust, AVI Japan Opportunity Trust, Capital Gearing Trust and Odyssean Investment Trust for their wins in the Citywire Investment Trust Awards 2022.

Over 70 investment companies were up for one of just 19 prestigious awards.

Awards are given to the closed-end funds on the London Stock Exchange with the best three-year performance in their categories to the end of August.

Investment trusts are ranked on their ‘information ratios’, rewarding funds with the best risk-adjusted growth in net asset value (NAV) against their benchmark index. This is a method used by analysts to calculate how much underlying investment return a trust gets for each unit of risk it takes against a stock market index.

In four private equity, infrastructure and property sectors, where investment trusts’ assets are valued less frequently, the information ratio does not work so well so performance is simply measured as the best NAV growth in the three-year period.

The August cut-off point meant the period of measurement did not include the stock market slump in September, or the more recent post-Budget selloff, which will affect the latest returns of all funds.

But that is not to detract from these worthy wins.

AVI Global Trust won the Global Equities category, up against the likes of MIGO Opportunities Trust, Oryx International Growth and Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust.

AVI Japan Opportunity Trust won over Atlantis Japan Growth Fund and Schroder Japan Growth Fund in the Japanese Equities category.

Joe Bauernfreund, chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Asset Value Investors said: “I am delighted AVI Global Trust has been recognised as Best Global Equities Trust. Our focus has been on buying good quality businesses trading at attractive valuations, and combining this with active engagement to unlock value at our portfolio companies; enabling them to thrive. The Trust’s unique and differentiated strategy continues to deliver consistent returns and we remain confident in our portfolio’s long-term prospects.

“AVI Japan Opportunities Trust was launched just four years ago so winning the Best Japanese Equities Trust is a wonderful validation of its investment strategy.  The focus on building a concentrated portfolio of quality small-cap, cash-rich companies, combined with constructive shareholder activism, has unlocked significant value at a number of our holdings. We continue to find compelling opportunities and remain excited by the future prospects of the Trust.”

Odyssean Investment Trust won the UK Smaller Companies category beating JPMorgan UK Smaller Companies Investment Trust, Miton UK Microcap and Schroder UK Mid Cap.

Stuart Widdowson, portfolio manager at Odyssean Capital said: “We are delighted to have won the Citywire UK Smaller Companies Investment Trust of 2022 award. And we are especially honoured given such esteemed competition. These are challenging times for all investors but also probably times of opportunity for committed investors with a long-term investment horizon.”

Capital Gearing Trust won the Global Multi-Asset award beating Invesco Select Balanced Risk Allocation Fund Share Portfolio, Personal Assets, RIT Capital Partners and Ruffer Investment Company.

Peter Spiller, chief investment officer at CGAM said: “In a pool of impressive peers, I’m honoured for Capital Gearing Trust to be recognised as Global Multi-Asset Fund of the Year. The delicate balance of capital preservation and wealth generation is a responsibility we don’t take lightly and I was pleased to accept this on behalf of the entire team.”

Sam Emery, managing director of Quill said: “I am delighted – as are the whole Quill team – for these clients and their excellent and well-deserved wins in this very respected awards event.”

Photo credit: Alex Tecson for Citywire

Quill PR is delighted to welcome to the team Emma Taylor as Account Executive.  Emma has recently graduated from Birmingham City University, where she studied Fashion Branding and Communication.  She brings to the team digital media, with experience in creative design across media. This is a first for Emma as this is her first full-time role since graduating in the summer and her first role in personal finance and investment – a sector she is keen to venture into.

At Quill Emma’s role is to provide background administrative support to the whole team and Quill clients with the ability to apply her creative design skills.

Emma says: ‘’I’m very happy to be starting off my career at Quill. Working for such an exceptional and highly regarded company is amazing. I’m excited to learn about the finance industry and to see where it takes me in the future!’’

Sam Emery, managing director of Quill added: “We first met Emma over a year ago when she assisted with a Quill event and stayed connected as she finished her degree. We were delighted that she wanted to break into public relations and to do so by joining Quill. She is already proving an invaluable member of the team, getting to grips fast with the industry and our clients.”

Quill PR celebrates the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and mourns the loss to her family and to the nation. Rest in peace Your Majesty. God save the King.

The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II came as a shock to many who had seen her smiling brightly to her new Prime Minister and even to the old one, just two days previously. Her death was going to be sooner rather than later but nevertheless it made our nation stop and reflect on a momentous event: a very real and great loss.

Did we need to know our Monarch personally to feel this? We did not need to know her personally nor her us. Respectively we meant something to each other purely by our existing – Her Majesty as our Queen and us as her public.

Something we understand, given the business we are in, is that the Queen was the best PR person this country could ever have had. Some individuals she met will have inspired her in some way and she has inspired. And many more will have learnt more about the Queen and her life in this past week than they had previously known. The week of mourning has allowed this.

A period of mourning is important for many reasons: it is a show of acknowledgement of a loss, a respect for that person who has died and it is a time of safety for those grieving to be allowed to grieve and have that grief also acknowledged. It is rarely given the prominence we have seen it given in the last week for the Queen.

That is something that could change – that we understand that a time of mourning should be in place for all people as they experience the death of a loved one.

While the Royal Family has a further week of mourning, as a nation we go back to work and normal lives and move on. But as we do, now is a good time to take something else with us – one of the final things our Queen left us with – a reminder of how we can be a nation brought together (in the main) in unity (even republicans expressed condolences and respect for the Queen’s life and work).

So as the headlines return to news and comment about inflation and interest rates and the impact on investing and on stock markets fluctuating and sterling losing against other currencies and the cost-of-living crisis and decisions for some as to whether to heat or eat, all things that could unite us but could also divide, let’s focus on the unity.

The Sunday Times ran a story Economy braces for chill as the nation mourns, reporting that restaurants, bars and concert venues saw bookings cancelled following the death of the Queen and economists warned that the national holiday for the funeral will lower output by £2bn making GDP shrink for a second consecutive quarter – the technical definition of a recession.

After all, the important things are really all about the money – yes?

As we enter what for many will be a difficult winter, with talk of privations and crisis, unity should mean we reflect as to whether it is for some a crisis or just a difficult time and how, as a society, we need to help those for whom it really is a catastrophe.

Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash

Digital banking is not helping with the loss of mainstream banks on our high streets and the competition from so-called ‘challenger’ banks. As customers are facing cost of living concerns how banks respond is key.

The Competition and Markets Authority recently commissioned customer surveys to glean whether and on what basis individuals and businesses would recommend their current account banks.

The results were not great for the traditional high street banks even where they are not on the high street but were for the challengers and the digital operations on the market.

Overall, the top-ranked personal current account providers in Great Britain were Starling Bank, Monzo and first direct. Bottom of the list were: Royal Bank of Scotland, Virgin Money and TSB.

Overall, the top-ranked business current account providers in Great Britain were Starling Bank, Monzo and Handelsbanken. At the bottom were: The Co-operative Bank, Virgin Money and HSBC UK.

In response, several banks specified a focus on digital: quoted in the Financial Times Virgin Money spoke of “investment in compelling customer propositions and digital innovation”; TSB of “evolving our digital services” and HSBC of having “simplified a number of processes and introduced more digital tools”.

The question is whether it is easy to add on such tools and be a match for the fintech operations that are unencumbered by demands for high street services. Investment houses don’t have walk-in sales premises – do banks need them anymore?

One such fintech operator Tide (Tide Platform Limited) managed to achieve fourth spot for overall service for business current accounts in the survey, third place for online and mobile banking services and fourth spot again for relationship and account management.

Tide only set up in 2015 providing mobile-first banking services for small and medium sized enterprises.  It enables businesses to set up a current account and get instant access to various financial services (including automated bookkeeping and integrated invoicing).

As one of the first digital-only finance platforms in the UK to provide current accounts for businesses, one wonders when next the CMA looks at the sector, how many digital-only operators will have ousted the high street names.

Beyond current account facilities – when it comes to lending, elsewhere on the market there is iwoca, one of Europe’s largest small business lenders.

Research by iwoca reveals that despite rising economic concerns, 93 new businesses were created every hour across the UK in the first half of 2022. Analysis of Companies House data reveals that over 402,000 businesses were registered in the UK between January and June 2022, an increase of 18% from 340,500 over the same time period in 2021.

Seema Desai, iwoca’s Chief Operating Officer says: “Despite the prevailing headwinds of an impending recession, we are encouraged to see that so many businesses have been created during the first half of this year.

“As many of these businesses struggle with cash flow in the coming months due to skyrocketing business costs, it is vital that lenders step in to provide a helping hand.”

Iwoca says it does this, adapting to the needs of small businesses by deploying the latest embedded technology.

The high street names, that have SME lending arms may also be facing swifter/slicker competition from such fintech lenders, as they are in their current account offerings.

At the 10th anniversary of the Olympic games in London, the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and England’s Lionesses winning the UEFA European Women’s Championship, there has been much talk of legacy and the right goals.

Did the Olympics turn us into a nation of active beings? Will the Commonwealth Games? Will we pitch up to watch women’s football at league level? Will girls get to play football at school?

During the pandemic lockdown we were – most of us – very good at pounding out for our hour a day of exercise – some of us carried it on afterwards – but many who were active pre-lockdown never got back to the same level of activity once the restrictions were lifted.

Whatever the level of enthusiasm in the moment, it rarely profits us in the way we might hope. Considering the UEFA Women’s Euro, it may be a numbers game, as 17.4 million tuned in to watch the final with 5.9 million on digital streaming, attendance at Wembley was at 87,192 the largest for any European game, overall 480,000 attended the tournament, Sarina Wiegman’s team is unbeaten in 19 games, has scored 104 goals and conceded just 4.

Some of the numbers, however, are less than inspirational: the average salary for a Women’s Super League player is £47k a year while some of the top male players can earn £300k plus a week.

A class of their own, but not yet

What of the legacy from the Euro Cup tournament and the call for girls to be given the option to play football in PE? The Department for Education (DfE) is not apparently committing to making sure that girls have equal access to football in schools, even after the Lionesses’ win in the Euros.

‘Government guidance published by the DfE fails to guarantee that girls be offered the same football lessons as boys but says they should instead be offered ‘comparable activities’.

According to Sport England there are 313,600 fewer women than men who are regularly active, when asked, 13 million women said they’d like to do more sport and physical activity and four in 10 women are not active enough to ensure they get the full health benefits.

Women drop out of sports because they lack access, says the Women’s Sports Foundation, adding that girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have. ‘Lack of physical education in schools and limited opportunities to play sports in both high school and college mean girls have to look elsewhere for sports –which may not exist or may cost more money. Often there is an additional lack of access to adequate playing facilities near their homes that makes it more difficult for girls to engage in sports,’ it says.

And why should they stay in sports? According to the Foundation: ‘Through sports, girls learn important life skills such as teamwork, leadership and confidence.’

Perhaps the legacy we should really hope for in society is that which relates to diversity in our schools, on the pitches and in the workplace.

As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says: ‘To reap the benefits of a diverse workforce it’s vital to have an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. While UK legislation – covering age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation among others – sets minimum standards, an effective inclusion and diversity strategy goes beyond legal compliance and seeks to add value to an organisation, contributing to employee wellbeing and engagement.’

One could fear that the legacy of the Euro cup will be purely financial – with little of the available financing reaching the masses – or the women’s game.

Not that it’s very easy to invest in football and certainly not women’s football. As one fund manager said: “All the women’s football clubs are currently loss making and are being subsidised by their male counterparts.”

Individuals can only buy shares in a football team if the shares are publicly traded and the club is not privately owned.

Or they could invest via funds like Lindsell Train Global Equity Fund which invests in PRADA SpA, Celtic plc and Juventus FC SpA or Lindsell Train UK Equity which invests in Celtic and Manchester United.

But the real investment is in encouraging our girls and our boys in playing football together and then on equal terms as they get older. The real legacy as a society, as investors, and as employers is to invest in the goals of our young people, the goals of our employees, and, where diversity and inclusion is concerned, not to score own goals.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The march of AI or artificial intelligence is truly upon us, highlighted by the fact that as I type, my keyboard is predicting what I am going to type next, and is often correct. Gosh, so predictable!

At an extremely interesting client presentation recently, fund managers from the Sanlam Artificial Intelligence fund explained to us that “Things that people called ‘pipe dreams’ when the fund was launched in 2017 are now happening. The changes have been utterly extraordinary. What was impossible is now possible.”

A fascinating timeline showed how algorithms have achieved superhuman levels in chess and other games such as Go in a very short space of time, and how AI platforms were teaching themsleves to walk, create their own languages and understand human vocabulary at an increasingly exponential speed.

There’s no doubt that changes brought by AI within healthcare, agriculture, transport (to mention a very few) are literally saving lives and may help to save the planet.

However, the very night after this event, I was reminded about the limits of AI in the arena of customer service. One area where chatbots and robots haven’t quite nailed the human touch yet.

My teenage daughter and her friend had arrived at a hotel in Portugal late at night, to be told that their room booking had been cancelled by the online booking service they’d used months earlier. This was human error (or greed) on the bookings service part, no robots at fault there. However, her booking was confirmed so a bit of a disagreement ensued but as the hotel was now full, she needed to contact them as they now had nowhere to stay. So then she (in Portugal) and I (in London) tried to communicate with the bookings company to get the issue sorted. We both experienced the same fate…

The phonecall was answered clearly by a robot – who requested the confirmation number. That was easily done. There then ensued some fake typing noise, I suppose to suggest that someone was actually typing into a computer to check something out, before a robotic voice informed that they had been waiting too long for our information and would have to end the phone call. At gone midnight – and having gone through this process twice I was definitely not impressed. The situation was not resolved until the following day – and took human intervention via twitter direct messaging to sort out.

While AI is clearly the future, companies should beware that they are not jeopardising their hard-won reputations for short-term cost savings. The message is that the nuances of real life problems often need to be resolved by humans; and human customers are not happy when they have to battle with companies’ attempts to deflect issues to our robot brethren, before they are quite ready.  

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

We are all thinking about how we can do good, do better, do the right thing when it comes to our communities and our global village. In a nod to ‘giving experiences not things’ – and in recognition that when it comes to ESG – the ‘S’ has been on the back burner – companies are increasingly looking to make a difference rather than a donation. And one such difference and an experience and a donation, is the notion of the 1% Club.

Matt Norris, who runs a fund investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) has written about this initiative for companies to invest 1% in meaningful projects, taking inspiration from a particular REIT, the purpose built student accommodation REIT, Unite Students.

A decade ago, Norris highlights how Unite Students created the Unite Foundation to provide “accommodation scholarships for care leavers and estranged young people.” The Foundation has a clear social purpose, seeking to “transform the lives of young people by enabling access to higher education.”

In the past ten years, the Foundation has awarded over 500 accommodation scholarships to students who lack the support of a family.

“This initiative clearly aligns the commercial side of Unite’s business with the delivery of positive social impact for students and communities over the long-term,” says Norris, adding “It’s worth noting that over this same 10-year period investors in Unite Group have benefitted from strong returns too.”

And now to increase the significance of this commitment, Unite Students now targets to invest 1% of profits into social impact initiatives annually. Norris hopes that as investors grapple with how to assess the social impact that companies are making on wider society then such initiatives may grow.

He asks whether this could be the making of the 1% Club, whereby REITs allocate space equivalent to 1% of their annual profits to relevant good causes.

For example, he says office REITs could allocate space in their latest campus developments, as opposed to the stuff earmarked for near-term demolition, with a rental value equivalent to 1% of their profits to charities. Or shopping centre REITs could allocate 1% profit equivalent space to youth centres looking for a town centre home. He adds that such actions are clearly measurable, helping to bring clarity to the ‘S’ factor and potentially move it up the ESG agenda.

And of course, it isn’t just REITs with space to proffer to communities that could take the 1% idea – on a corporate, individual, national and local governmental level where there is office or retail space (flats above shops) being under-utilised or just plain left empty – with imagination and effort we could be creating social spaces, living spaces, homes for homeless.

Now that is doing the reit thing.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

What are the main topics of conversation on my commute into London? The horrors in the Ukraine, inflation, party-gate? No, none of these; it is which days people are working in the office, which at home and how they are adjusting to the ‘new new normal’. Is the four day week inevitable?

Businesses all over the country have reacted very differently to the post-pandemic world of work.  Some like the large City banks are mandating staff to revert to the full pre-pandemic Monday to Friday working regime, whilst others are taking a rather more flexible and pragmatic approach.

Of course, there are many more issues at stake here than merely hours in the office.  Whilst many staff have enjoyed the working from home experience, others have not, missing the buzz and camaraderie of an office environment. 

One thing is for certain, the adoption of Zoom and Teams meetings during Covid-19 means that those meeting mediums are here to stay, leading to much greater time efficiencies and lower travel costs and an end to the often travel-related stress.  

Going forward, an organisation’s WFH policy is going to be a significant factor in both retaining and attracting new talent and – if not already explicit in the job ad – is  likely to be right up there in the interviewee’s top three questions. A busy time for all HR departments for sure.

How companies react depends very much on the type of business they are in or whether they feel they can trust their employees not to abuse a much more flexible and self-empowering approach to the working week.  Client facing service sector businesses clearly need to ensure quality of service is maintained but balance this against the risk of wholesale resignations should they revert to a zero flexible working policy.

Some firms are taking quite a radical approach, with PwC, for example, announcing that its 22,000 staff can finish at Friday lunchtime over the summer.  Others may follow and this will almost certainly be the precursor to the official four day working week that many have been calling for to create ‘positive well-being’ and a better work life balance.

Image credit: Isabel Andrade on Unsplash

Now the ISA season is over, is that it for clients investing into their ISA pots till next year? Does the flurry of activity pre-5 April to encourage investors to use their ISA allowance before they lose it? Does it risk savers missing out on the opportunities presented by pensions?

And will any manage to save anything anyway for the foreseeable future?

Providers and advisers have a role to play in encouraging them to and in promoting pensions as much as ISAs. The two should go hand in hand.

But it is not going to be easy.

Many people lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and the age-old (excuse the expression) scandal of the over fifties being overlooked for jobs is still evident.

And of course, the effects of the pandemic lockdown on the economy has been superseded by Russia embarking on a war with Ukraine.

Cost of living rises

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) heralds worse to come for the consumer.

‘The conflict also has major repercussions for the global economy, whose recovery from the worst of the pandemic was already being buffeted by Omicron, supply bottlenecks, and rising inflation,’ it says. ‘A fortnight into the invasion, gas and oil prices peaked over 200 and 50% above their end-2021 levels respectively. Prices have since fallen back but remain well above historical averages.

‘As a net energy importer with a high degree of dependence on gas and oil to meet its energy needs, higher global energy prices will weigh heavily on a UK economy that has only just recovered its pre-pandemic level. Petrol prices are already up a fifth since our October forecast and household energy bills are set to jump by 54% in April.’

The OBR predicts that if wholesale energy prices remain as high as markets expect, energy bills are set to rise around another 40% in October, pushing inflation to a 40-year high of 8.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

As it points out: ‘Higher inflation will erode real incomes and consumption, cutting GDP growth this year from 6.0 per cent in our October forecast to 3.8 per cent. With inflation outpacing growth in nominal earnings and net taxes due to rise in April, real livings standards are set to fall by 2.2 per cent in 2022-23 – the largest financial year fall on record – and not recover their pre-pandemic level until 2024-25.’

Compound interest

It is imperative individuals save and invest where they can and as much as they can and as early as they can. As Dan Brocklebank, director UK, Orbis Investments has recently highlighted, the majority of people underestimate the power of compounding interest. Orbis carried out research asking folk if they invested £100 on a child’s behalf into the stock market via a Junior ISA, assuming 8% return pa what would they have when the child hit 18. Only 6.6% were able to calculate near the correct amount of £400. The average ‘guesstimate’ was £246. This shows a clear need for financial service providers to educate clients – and potential clients – about the power of compounding over longer terms.

Dan said: “Compound growth may not be intuitive to most. As long as people underestimate the power of compounding, they are likely to miss out on the long-term benefits of investing in markets.  Investing in global equities has been shown to outperform cash over the long term, and the ‘magic’ of compounding plays a part in this.”

The award is particularly appreciated as it is voted for exclusively by financial journalists.

In presenting the award, the judges said: “Congratulations to Quill PR, which returns to claim the title that it held in 2017 and then again in 2018. As with all our PR and communications awards, it was the financial journalist community that had the final say in determining boutique PR agency Quill PR as the winner, with the outcome decided by an extensive poll carried out in April 2021.”

The judgement advised that recognition was given to Quill PR as a “longstanding and quality agency, with a diverse client base”. In the initial round of judging, the agency was complimented on providing “good examples of strong relationship building during lockdown”, with praise for their client wins during a difficult year.

The judges concluded: “Quill PR scoops this award for its work for both new and existing clients across the year.”

Sam Emery, managing director of Quill said: “We are delighted to win this award, especially as it is voted for by the press with whom we work so closely. 2020 and 2021 could have proved overwhelming in more ways than one. However, the Quill PR team more than punched above its weight, remaining a go-to source for press seeking quality comments and interviews and also as a trusted partner to our clients.”