All about the values

By Penny Pryor

First Sentier Investors managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Elizabeth Hastilow, has had a very busy few years - a company name change, talk of an IPO, a new major shareholder, all topped off with a global pandemic. But she firmly believes the firm has emerged as much stronger overall, partly due to a focus on staff and the staff-led values of - care, collaboration, openness, and dedication.

"It was a really busy time for the business," Hastilow, who is also global chief legal and risk officer, says

"I'm so pleased that we are where we are today with MUTB - Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation. We've got a really supportive shareholder who wants the business to grow, and has given the business autonomy to grow as a standalone investment management business.

"And yes, it's been a lot of hard work for us to get here over the last couple of years. But really, you know, it's fantastic position that we're in now."

People and values

First Sentier, which employs approximately 900 people worldwide, 400 of whom are in Australia, regularly surveys its employees to gauge sentiment around different issues. Staff were also active in developing the staff-led values which were finalised just prior to the pandemic in early 2020.

"We had done a lot of work with our staff. So, they were staff-led values and the values are care, collaboration, openness, and dedication. And I relied on those values in speaking with our teams throughout the last two years. And that really helped us. It really helped us during the COVID working environment, when there was so much uncertainty for staff, being pulled back to those values that were staff led," Hastilow says.

New working environment

First Sentier is also listening, and heeding, the opinions of its employees in determining its return to workplace policies. Hastilow says that the majority of employees want to return in some form, at least part-time, but acknowledges the concerns of those who may be fearful.

"We are implementing a hybrid working model in the firm. And we're doing that globally. The start date with the hybrid working principle is different depending on what country you're in, or what city you're in, and just what's happening with the pandemic at that time," Hastilow says.

In Australia it will be commenced formally from February but First Sentier is already enabling staff to work flexibly from home and from the office, with staff spending generally half their time in the office.

"What we're asking staff is to really look at the tasks they're doing and what tasks are best done at home and what tasks are best done collaborating with your team in the office?" Hastilow says.

"I do believe that some office work is really important for collaboration and connection with the team. Not just their own team that they're working with, but across the office as well. I think that is important. In my view, there is a place for offices, particularly for highly regulated businesses such as ours."

Performance ultimately triumphs

First Sentier global investment management teams have won a number of awards for their performance over the past few years as the company has been managing the transition. These include a number of Asia Asset Management Best of the Best Awards, Citywire Asia Awards and also, through the FirstChoice Wholesale Personal Super platform, the First Sentier Wholesale Geared Share won Money Magazine's Best Super Performer award 2022.

Hastilow says this performance is testament to the company's ability to transition smoothly. The organisation hasn't just transitioned from one bank shareholder to another bank shareholder, instead it has established itself as an independent global investment management business.

"We've done a lot of work with our clients so that they understand the stability, hence why we have seen the large number of investment upgrades this year across our teams. We've seen inflows into our business. We now have almost $250 billion in assets under management across the firm. That [is] growth we've been able to achieve over that time, despite the transition and despite Covid."