Anna Snider might just be the busiest person in fund research right now.
For one thing, she’s in the middle of huge project that will see Merrill Lynch Wealth Management reduce the number of funds available to its advisors by around 40%.
On top of this she has just revamped her team’s high-conviction list of 195 strategies and is building a list for hedge fund managers as well.
She’s also part way through a ‘big research project’ on smart beta.
And if this were not enough, there is the small matter of finding new manager talent to cover emerging markets; thematic funds; and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) strategies.
Oh, and in her spare time she volunteers for a non-profit organization called High Water Women, which works with low-income children and women around the world to provide financial education and empowerment.
And there was me thinking I had it tough.
GOING ALL OUT
Snider clearly does not do things by half.
‘I tend to be a big nerd,’ she laughs. ‘Instead of saying, “Who is the next emerging markets manager we should put on the platform because we are short?” I tend to do these cross asset class team projects for areas where we really need to be right up to date.
‘I want to know what the new approaches are in this space. Is a hybrid equity and debt vehicle something we want? In smart beta it will not just be the top smart beta fund [added to the platform], it will probably be a range of approaches, and we really just want to understand that space.’
This dedication is no doubt necessary to steer Merrill though its massive platform overhaul, or ‘the rationalization’ as Snider calls it.
The project, which was first announced in May last year and kicked off in September, will result in the firm cutting the number of mutual funds available on its advisor platform, Merrill One, from around 3,500 to 1,800.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
So back to that mammoth to-do list.
While finding an emerging market manager is not an uncommon task for heads of due diligence, Snider’s projects on smart beta, thematic funds and ESG might raise a few eyebrows.
Although all are well-established styles of investing, they are not without their critics, and many professional buyers have questioned how popular they are with investors. Snider is having none of this. She argues they should all be taken seriously and is doing just that.
She has her ETF, traditional mutual fund and hedge fund teams all working to report on the size and shape of the smart beta market.
‘I think smart beta is pretty important,’ she says. ‘We don’t recommend anything in the smart beta space as of yet. We decided before we do a search on smart beta to instead step back and say: “What is going on in smart beta and how has it evolved over time? What are the newest techniques people are using? Which ones do we think will be the most compelling?”’
Her search for thematic fund managers is no less rigorous. The firm has cast its net wide to find managers investing in long-term growth drivers, such as innovation in education, healthcare, robotics and longevity.
‘We have gone to Europe and Asia looking for managers who are investing this way, in addition to looking at US-based managers. It is directly linked to where we think some of the investment growth will be driven from over the very long term,’ she says.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Her views on ESG or impact investing are stronger still. This is not just an area of professional interest, but a personal passion.
As mentioned above she is heavily involved in the non-for-profit organization High Water Women, which was set up by women in the financial industry to help lower-income children become financially literate and to work with microfinance organizations to aid women across the world.
Snider has travelled to the likes of Ghana, Liberia and Kenya to volunteer for the organization.
While perhaps not typical of every Wall Street employee, it not a surprising move given Snider’s background. Her father was an inner city minister and her mother an inner city teacher.
‘My upbringing was, let’s just say, socially oriented,’ she laughs. ‘We always had people like missionaries hanging around our house and lots of refugees who would come in through the Lutheran church that my dad was a part of, and we would house them and clothe them.’
She says of her work with High Water Women: ‘Being able to use my financial knowledge and apply it to these developing world organizations, which will help women and broader communities, was really fulfilling.’
MAKING AN IMPACT
Snider’s passion for impact investing is not reserved for life outside work. At Merrill, in addition to being head of due diligence, she leads the impact investment strategy for the CIO office along with two colleagues.
She argues that demographic changes including the rise of Millennials, the increasing number of women controlling wealth and institutional demands mean ESG is something all portfolio managers must consider.
Merrill currently has 22 recommended ESG strategies in mutual funds, ETFs, SMAs, a hedge fund and two private real estate offerings. She says the wirehouse is looking to expand its private debt and equity offering here as well as on the public fixed income and stock side too.
‘Yes, I have a personal interest in it. But also from just a pure investment standpoint I would say ESG investing has been around for a very long time. The assets may not have grown as people think they should have grown, but we are in a phase where we are really educating advisors and clients about what is even possible.
‘I think the investment options have become really sophisticated.’
Asked what headline she would most like to read, she replies: ‘Impact investing has gone mainstream. Period.’