Portrait of… Denise Voss
Conducting Officer of Franklin Templeton Investments, she has also been, for the past eighteen months, the chairman of ALFI. As the investment funds industry in Luxembourg is making its way through drastic changes, she is turning the industry’s challenges into opportunities.
By Isadora Pardo – Partner – TechFin Luxembourg
As Denise is entering the meeting room on this Tuesday afternoon, her welcoming smile immediately filled the room with kindness and energy. As I mentioned her spectacular career achievement, she gave the credit to the nature of the Luxembourg financial place, that offers fantastic opportunities to whomever is eager to make a contribution: “this is the beauty of the small size of Luxembourg, that gives the opportunity to one who is really interested to work his way from the ground up. It would not have been possible anywhere else!” The woman who is the current heart and soul of the Luxembourg Funds industry is definitely a kind and modest individual.
Small country – great opportunities
Denise Voss arrived in Luxembourg 26 years ago. In 1990, having completed a Master Degree in Accountancy from the Bentley College and a Massachusetts C.P.A. license, she was working as a Certified Public Accountant with Coopers & Lybrand in Boston, MA. At that time, she volunteered for an exchange program between C&L Luxembourg and C&L Boston. “Looking back”, Denise recalls, “it was very funny as I exchanged with Marc Saluzzi. He came to Boston, I came to Luxembourg, originally for a few months. I got really attracted to Luxembourg, like many other people from abroad, for the quality of life and the international aspect in particular. As I met my partner here and we became a family, I stayed in Luxembourg and never left.”
Fifteen year later, Denise succeeded Marc as Chairman of the Association for the Luxembourg Funds Industry (“ALFI”). “In my experience coming to Luxembourg was a great way to work your way from the bottom up in the funds industry. I consider two main reasons for this: the first one is the opportunities that were available, to learn all aspects of the fund management processes that you need to, in my example, eventually become a conducting officer. The second reason is the intensive collaboration that has always been present between all players in the industry. Obviously, competition exists, but it is accompanied by a strong interest in working together. Asset Managers compete on the basis of performance, custodians compete on the basis of service level, etc. However, generally they all work together for the greater good of the market. We also benefit from the ongoing open dialogue that exists with the regulator. There is a sense of community that is really welcoming in the Luxembourg financial industry.”
Denise considers the size of Luxembourg has been a true catalyst for making the Place a central hub for cross-border distribution. “When I arrived, the UCITS regulation dated back only two years (the UCITS Law of March 30, 1988). UCITS was very similar to the 1940 Act mutual fund law I was used to in the US, which makes perfect sense as both the EU and US versions were aimed at regulating investment vehicles for retail investors. Right away, large US based fund players saw in UCITS an opportunity to grow their business outside of the US, starting in Europe. Luxembourg, the first country to implement the Law locally, focused on cross-border distribution at an early stage, through intense government support in particular.” Denise notices the specificity of Luxembourg, as compared to other countries in Europe: “Larger countries, having a bigger domestic market for funds, did not really focus on cross-border distribution, as Luxembourg and Ireland did. What appeared as a challenge to start with, turned into an opportunity.”
Denise started working for Franklin Templeton Investments in 1995. Meanwhile, she got involved in the ALFI Working Groups early in her career, in 1997. Looking back, she considers this involvement has been a very positive way to develop career-wise. In 2007, she had the opportunity to join the Board of ALFI. William Lockwood, then Conducting Officer of Franklin Templeton Investment, who had been an ALFI Board Member for ten years, suggested she put herself forward, and she was elected to the Board. Since then, she has always shown a true involvement in the ALFI endeavors, working hard to support and enhance the central role of Luxembourg in the global Funds industry. “We see we are succeeding, as the Luxembourg UCITS has become a brand that people request, from all over the world. Still, we need to keep promoting the brand and our fund centre. In particular, we are working on opening new markets for UCITS, the most recent of which being Australia, for which ALFI obtained a license exemption for Luxembourg based UCITS management companies. This sophisticated market in terms of asset management represents a great opportunity for Luxembourg UCITS.” In 2015, Denise was elected chairman of ALFI by her fellow Board members – a fantastic opportunity for her.
As Denise became chairman of ALFI, she embraced the task without minimizing the challenges to address: “The investment funds industry in Luxembourg needs to adapt to macro challenges and become a key pillar of the retirement systems. With the graying of the population, UCITS funds have an opportunity to become an important part of individual retirement funding.” Denise’s experience with Franklin Templeton has provided her with a solid foundation for engaging the market in this transition. She explained: “from the very beginning, the in-house transfer agent system had all these great functionalities for regular savings plan management. Why is this important? The current and upcoming generations will be more and more responsible with regards to saving and investing for their retirement and financial needs, and so we need to be able to offer products such as regular savings plans to help individuals reach their financial goals. In a negative interest rates environment, investment funds are good vehicles for such long-term savings: compound interests work for you, especially if you start early. However, to enable this cultural change to attract retail investors to a larger extent, we need to work on three axes: having the right products, promoting investor education towards saving and investing, and making the best use of the technology and digital innovations. This last aspect combines both opportunities and challenges: digital technology puts pressure on companies and jobs as, along with the second EU Payment Directive, it opens the competition to non financial services providers and will take away the banks’ monopoly of financial services. In any case, financial institutions need to modernize their platforms, to attract the new generations. As is often the case, distributors and investors, along with new regulations, will be the trigger for deep changes in the industry. The recent generation of investors is used to ‘do it yourself’ and to switching providers for the best service. Digitalization of services is unavoidable to attract these investors.”
Acting for change
Since her appointment as Chairman of ALFI, Denise considers herself fortunate to be a key actor of this change. “As Franklin Templeton allowed me to take on the ALFI role, I am now able to combine both roles for the greater good of our industry.” FTI has both a Luxembourg UCITS and an AIFM license. It also has investment management and distribution offices throughout the globe, including a large presence in Asia, an area where ALFI is active in promoting the Luxembourg UCITS and AIFMD brands. “Working day to day within a management company naturally helps me in my ALFI role to explain and answer any questions from foreign regulators and funds companies, on the role of management companies for cross border distribution!” Although the position is certainly demanding, Denise greatly enjoys every moment of it: “The ALFI team and infrastructure are fabulous! Promoting the Luxembourg funds industry is a lot of fun. I am proud to say that Luxembourg is the only funds center traveling around the world as much as we do to promote the industry globally!”
Changes take time, but Denise is positive the impact of digital will be felt in much less than ten years. “Within the ALFI 2020 Ambition and the corresponding FinTech working groups in place, a number of initiatives and projects have already completed the proof of concept phases. Look at the Funds DLT initiative for instance” (Distributed Ledger Technology or DLT is a blockchain-type distribution platform for funds distribution. The platform was launched in December 2016. This platform will allow for reducing the elapsed time for processing a retail investment in a fund from a few days down to a couple of hours). “Changes take time and education. Still, Luxembourg is fortunate as the government is keen to make changes happen, through support, promotion and funding.”
“There is still a lot to do”, acknowledges Denise. For the Luxembourg funds industry to remain a global fund centre of excellence, it is critical to look ahead, and consider what it takes to educate, attract and retain the talents and experts the industry will need. “What will jobs in the future look like? How can people be trained for these jobs? A conducting officer like me is responsible for overseeing all aspects of an investment fund. To successfully execute a role like this, both experience and exposure to many if not all aspects of fund management is needed. Even though working in the industry “from the ground up” is the perfect way to gather the skills required to be a conducting officer, the fact that many of these jobs aren’t as available today (and will be transformed by digital technology) makes it harder for future generations to develop into the role. The question of how people will learn is a critical one to address.” ALFI, through its contribution to various specific training programs for professionals in the funds industry, via the House of Training, etc., supports continuous education of industry players.
Recent studies have evidenced that diverse organizations are more successful, for diversity encourages people to learn from one another and give the most of themselves. Training is also a way to encourage diversity in the industry, and gender diversity in particular. “Personally, I have never had to struggle professionally as a woman. Nevertheless, women are known to be more reluctant than men to take jobs where they do not fulfill, up front, all of the skills and requirements of the job. As a result, training women on digital technology topics so that they feel more comfortable raising their hand and undertaking technology-related projects, for instance, is helpful. I support organizations, such as WomenInDigital.org, that provide such training, as it is a perfect complement to corporate diversity programs”.
Walking out from this interview after a warm handshake from Denise, I was feeling that the Luxembourg funds industry as a whole was not only benefitting from a true practitioner with a deep knowledge of fund management, risk management and distributions aspects. The ALFI has selected as chairman a very wise woman, deeply involved in getting the industry ready for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, from a technology, social, financial and regulatory standpoint, both locally and globally. I was auguring the future of Luxembourg in a very positive way, thanks to Denise’s inner views of the industry.
About Franklin Templeton Investments
Franklin Templeton is a global leader in asset management, serving clients in over 170 countries. In today’s complex and interconnected world, smart investing demands a global perspective. Franklin Templeton pioneered international investing 70 years ago and our expertise in emerging markets spans more than a quarter of a century. At Franklin Templeton Investments, we are dedicated to one goal: delivering exceptional asset management to our shareholders.
More information? Please visit http://www.franklintempleton.lu
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