Soo Shin Kobberstad
Research Consultant at bfinance
“A Leader in Investment Advisory”
As a boutique investment consultancy that often competes with much larger firms, bfinance’s success is driven in large part by the deep expertise and market knowledge of its senior researchers. Soo Shin Kobberstad brings precisely this depth of understanding: she has more than 25 years of experience spanning portfolio management, asset allocation, document negotiation, capital market analysis, and more.
Having spent time working in the pension fund sector (four years as Head of Credit at LPP), she also has a deep understanding and sensitivity to the needs and challenges of the firm’s clients—pension funds, insurers, endowments, charities and other institutions. These investors are trying to deliver essential outcomes in an increasingly challenging and complex investment climate, with heightened market volatility, inflation and rising interest rates.
“The rapid growth of bfinance, an independent investment consultancy firm which now provides advice and solutions to institutional investors in more than forty countries, is driven by the deep expertise of its senior research staff.”
At bfinance, Soo focuses primarily on Investment Manager Selection. “Soo’s skillset has been particularly valuable in manager selection, supporting incisive research into the factors that differentiate one manager from another and drive strong long-term performance,” says Kathryn Saklatvala, the firm’s Head of Investment Content.
One of the most interesting current developments in the world of fund manager selection is the growing emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”). More and more of bfinance’s clients are paying attention to D&I matters within their investment decision making and when deciding which partners to work with. “I would like to applaud the investors incorporating D&I aspects in investment,” says Soo. “When companies’ shareholders show that they care about diversity, companies must sit up and pay attention.”
Academic research now strongly indicates that diversity contributes to better decision-making within companies – a view which tallies strongly with Soo’s personal experience. “Although women are more likely to show high social conscience and collaboration, I have personally found that teams with more women lead to less conformity in thought – leading to more rigor in analysis and debate.”
Diversity is a topic particularly close to her heart, as a woman who has spent much of her career in financial services grappling with biases which she describes as subtle, cultural and often unconscious. “Ten or twenty years ago, I would give talks at widely-attended investment industry conferences and consistently find myself as the sole female speaker in the line-up,” says Soo. “Surveying the audience from the stage, I could see only a few female faces here and there. That reflected an endemic problem in the industry. I certainly felt like an ‘outsider’ in some ways, and found this quite difficult – as I’m sure many other women in investments and portfolio management experienced.”
She does recognize significant improvements in this gender imbalance through recent years, but argues there is still a long way to go. “I am glad to see the financial services industry making conscious efforts to check our unconscious biases at the door, with education and emphasis on D&I,” she says. “But I do still hear men in this industry casually make remarks to female professionals that undermine the women’s credibility and authority, and which they certainly would not make to male counterparts.”
Moreover, the office culture in financial services “is still geared towards men and their way of interacting and transacting”, she observes. “Women need to ‘adapt’ more than men, requiring additional aptitude. That said,” she adds, “the greatest lesson for me as a female leader is that women need to remain authentic and not undermine themselves by unconsciously and unintentionally veering away from the professional they aspire to be.”
Soo firmly believes that the most powerful factor leading change is increasing the number of women in the ranks, including senior roles. It is a circular, virtuous evolution: “a greater number of women will both empower women and, at the same time, extract greater value out of women,” she says.
This transition also requires supportive company policies. Bfinance, for example, has promoted family-friendly human resources practices and encouraged a culture of work-life balance, helping those with responsibilities at home to fulfil those without sacrificing the quality of work. Women are encouraged to take up senior roles and greater responsibility. They have senior directors who work part-time schedules; this should not be a barrier to advancement. Flexibility and remote work have now become more mainstream, with the pandemic overturning historic presumptions and biases about the effect of flexibility on productivity. IEWL
Soo Shin Kobberstad
Research Consultant at bfinance
bfinance is an independent, privately-owned investment consulting firm that provides advice and solutions to pension funds and other institutional investors around the globe. We combine specialist expertise with a global perspective to help our clients develop, implement and manage best-in-class investment programmes.