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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

January 2021

Having to home school two supposedly self-sufficient older teenagers (again) has been challenging to say the least, but also very eye-opening.

One of the big lessons I’ve learnt is that social media is ripping up the rule book on financial education in a way which seems unstoppable. As a parent who has been in this industry for over 20 years, I’ve done my best to instil ‘financial wisdom’ in my children. Chores for pocket money, saving up, the benefits of long-term investing and compounding etc.

Recently I’ve been stunned to hear my son (17) shouting at his friends through the X-box about Gamestop and Blackberry, rather than the usual shouted directions and admonishments for getting killed on [whatever game] he normally graces his friends’ ears with.

Since the beginning of January he has been ‘advising’ (read, harassing) me to buy Blackberry shares – “they’re going to rocket, they don’t even make phones any more”, and Gamestop “there’s going to be the biggest short squeeze ever”. For a while I resisted, but his demands got so annoying I decided to go ahead, on the proviso that he can take the equivalent amount in profit, and/or take the financial hit as and when they tank.

My raison d’etre was to teach a tough life lesson, early on, about expectations and basically gambling (and losing).

So I did buy some of both of the above, purely in the spirit of lesson-teaching. So far we’re up on all counts. Do I expect that to last? No.

If the opposite does happen, and they stay up, then I’ll have learnt a lesson, although not as big a lesson than the hedge funds who had shorted GME. I have also learnt that my son was inspired to undertake a lot of research, looking under the bonnet of how hedge funds work, and about different types of derivatives and how they react in various situations to an impressive level. To be fair to him, he has heeded my warnings that there’s no such thing as a guarantee and is prepared to let it play out, come what may.

So there’s an upside to all of this; he was motivated to research something to a very detailed level. In lockdown school life, finding that sort of motivation is a big plus. The dangers, however, are more numerous. As I blogged before back in September 2019 there’s a whole generation out there taking their cues from social media outlets which aren’t regulated; often from ‘influencers’ who know nothing.

Financial education is paramount. Sensible industry players need to engage with young people in a way which will reach them; nothing we haven’t said before and something we discuss at Quill on a regular basis. It seems that lockdown is creating a need for this process to accelerate.

Disclaimer: author owned both shares mentioned at the time of writing (for purely educational purposes!)

I doubt few would have imagined back in the dark, cold days of March that three months later, the majority of us would still be working from home as we hurtle towards the mid-point of the year and pass the longest day on June 21. We have had so much to reflect on and consider, what has the ‘big pause’ meant for businesses?

It is a great national tragedy that many businesses both large and small won’t survive this enforced shut down. Some which were teetering on the brink, or new start-ups which unfortunately didn’t even get off the ground, will have fallen victim to the Covid-crash. For those of us fortunate enough to have been working throughout, it hasn’t been without its stresses and numerous practical challenges. But one thing it has done is to create an unexpected opportunity to look at what really matters for the fortunes of all businesses – the people, the human resource that ultimately makes the difference between an ‘ok’ business and a great business.

Embracing digital technology has enabled us to undertake all our daily work tasks efficiently, and how normal it all now seems. The psychology of how teams perform has always fascinated me, particularly the dynamic of how differing personalities interact within an office environment. There are days when everyone collectively seems a little low and days which are the entire opposite. That simply hasn’t been the case in our enforced lockdown. Instead of the physical proximity of the office and coworkers, everyone is reacting to different family and environmental influences and challenges.

In April when the exceptional Spring weather kicked in, I remember feeling concerned that everyone in the Quill team had some outside space that they could enjoy – fortunately they all did which I am sure is good for the soul as well as inspiring both calm and creativity. We have ensured that people have taken ‘time out’ and had at least a few days ‘homecation’, desperately hoping no doubt for a proper holiday later in the year, let’s hope so.

Whilst I am convinced that we will largely return to normal, the mind has an inane ability to ‘forget’ the bad stuff, and hopefully working practices will change for the better. It’s a given that there will be an increased use of technology, more flexi-working and a greater focus on well-being. All of which will be positive outcomes from this ‘forced manual re-set’. We have also had the benefit of getting to know our colleagues and contacts better as video calls have given us a greater insight into their homes, individual style and ‘domestic personalities’.

Let’s hope that as many businesses as possible are able to make the most of the awful situation we currently find ourselves in and come through it with their teams closer, more tolerant and more efficient.

May 2020

The crisis that has hit every aspect of our day-to-day lives brings with it a plethora of problems. Whether it is as crucial as working out how best to care for vulnerable family or friends, or simply considering how ‘home office’ appropriate the background to your Zoom calls are, these are problems I bet none of us have spent time preparing for.

The problems are amplified for businesses. With no certainty as to how long this crisis will last, nor how the world will look when we eventually emerge on the other side, forward planning seems almost impossible.

What is within our power, and all we can currently control, is how we react to the frankly unnerving situation we now found ourselves in.

For businesses, it is important to rise above the noise and continue business as ‘unusual’ as far as you are able. It also means letting people know how Coronavirus is affecting you and your team, what the impact could be on clients and customers, and what your new working conditions are.

Communication, as the saying goes, is key.

Now is not the time to hide away

The public are not holding back in their judgement of how businesses act during the crisis – and communication plays a huge part in shaping perceptions.

Three in five (61%) people surveyed by Censuswide in April agreed that they care more about how brands are behaving now than they did before the Covid-19 outbreak, and 68% said they thought it was important for brands to spread positive news.

What was even more stark was that almost half (48%) of Brits said they would trust a brand less if it ignored what was happening and did not communicate about Covid-19 at all.

Clients and customers are, however consciously, noting how your brand interacts during the crisis and ongoing public lock down. It is not the time to stop interacting, to hide away and hope for normality to return.

Now is the time to be going out there with strong messaging and following through with action.

It is arguably the best time to get your message out there and do some good. With more people watching and reading the news, around half (48%) have said they are noticing brand news more. Businesses need to be trying to be part of this ‘new normal’, not stepping back from it.

The tide can turn quickly

You need only look at Sports Direct to see how rapidly public attitudes can turn. After boss Mike Ashley announced in late March that its stores would remain open despite lockdown, YouGov polling found the company’s UK index score – a measure of the overall brand health – fell from 1.1 to -18.4 in just a week.

Its reputation (already low, only hitting -10 at its peak over the previous year according to YouGov) fell drastically, from -17.8 to -46.3 over the same one-week period.

True, this is more a sign of poor judgement from a brand that has courted controversy in the past than a lack of communication, but it shows just how quickly poor messaging and output from a business can drag on the public’s perception – particularly when it comes to something as emotive as the nation’s health. The public are unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt when lives are at stake.

Offer the answers

Everyone is looking for answers, and often looking to the brands and companies they interact with to provide them. Rather than burying your head in the proverbial sand, it is crucial to stay in contact. Explain what is happening, and how you are dealing with it. It is even better if you can be proactive and positive in your engagement. Have you involved the business in any charity or community efforts? How have you reached out to customers to help them if they are feeling vulnerable?

It may be something as simple as a scheme to boost your remote-working office’s moral, or as straightforward as making charitable donations, what is important is that you keep people informed and, better yet, spread some much needed cheer and goodwill in these anxious months.