In this regular series, female members of the ESG investment industry detail how they are dealing with the transition to remote working during the coronavirus fallout
Following on from our sister title Portfolio Adviser which has been running the Working from Home series with investment experts from the wider industry, we are running these articles twice a week with women in ESG. This week we speak to Anna Macdonald, fund manager at Amati Global Investors.
How have you adapted to remote working on a longer-term basis from both a portfolio and workplace perspective?
It has taken time to adjust to lockdown working, both from an individual and a team perspective. As with so many rapid changes, at first the novelty of it all can see you through on a wave of adrenaline and optimism, before the reality hits – the frustration of slower wi-fi, dropped calls, interruptions from family members. And then, inevitably, one settles into a new normal.
At Amati, we were already well on our way to making the adjustments we needed before lockdown was officially established on 23 March, with screens and headsets set up at home. Our IT systems – designed by us and for us – work well and we have been able to function fully from day one, thanks to our excellent support team.
Our fund manager WhatsApp group of four frequently pings with a ‘shall we have a group call?’ message and then we all dial in to chat. I think we have all found this stressful from time to time – it requires a different type of concentration and is not as spontaneous as discussing stocks around the desk as we did in the pre-covid days. It is also simply far too easy to keep on working when your computer set up is in your living room. Setting up defined start and stop times has helped me to stop work seeping into home time – which has been particularly important with two daughters to care for.
What has surprised you most about markets during the coronavirus sell-off?
Reading the markets has been super challenging and we have been incredibly busy, with one equity raise after another. We have certainly been surprised at how broadly spread the recovery has been since mid-March, and our main points of discussion have been centred around what is driving market sentiment.
The V-shaped recovery in markets is not reflected in what seems to be a more gentle, messy and sometimes inconsistent unwinding of the lockdown. Our view is that huge amounts of liquidity are feeding into the rise in equities. However, we do have concerns about which areas of the economy are going to suffer most in the months to come as government support schemes are tapered back.
How do you think attitudes to ESG initiatives will be affected following the crisis?
Companies I am speaking to are recognising that they can reduce their carbon footprint substantially and provide much more flexible home working, which will help the environment and improve diversity. We take a keen interest in management reward structures and discuss in meetings how boards and the executive team are ‘sharing the pain’ as well as using furlough schemes responsibly.
Share some good news you have heard recently about the holdings/sectors/themes you invest in?
We look for companies that are going to be able to thrive and grow in most weathers – but for some, lockdown has actually boosted their sales.
Our holdings in Frontier Developments and Sumo have done well as computer gaming has thrived in lockdown. Content providers such as Frontier have not only grown their player base, but forged deeper relationships with their existing gamers by distributing new content for their games Elite Dangerous, Planet Zoo and Jurassic World. Sumo’s creative and games development services are also in high demand and shares have performed well.
Gear4Music and Focusrite have also delivered strong performances as customers want to create and record more music at home. Pharmaceutical companies have also been an important contributor to performance, including Oxford Biomedica. We have taken part in selected placings – Dart Group for example – and swerved others. Determining the outlook for consumer stocks has been particularly challenging given the uncertainty over when shops, restaurants and gyms will ‘open up’ and how trading capacity will be when they do.
What do you do for fun when you take a break from working at home?
Being a single mother can be especially isolating during these times. I have found prioritising my own mental and physical health is vital to keep going for work and for the kids. I find running along the Water of Leith tremendously helpful, have had a couple of dips in the freezing sea at Portobello, and I have recently taken delivery of a Peloton bike, which is brilliant.
Meeting up with friends – in a socially distant fashion – has also helped and we all speak frequently on the phone.
How do you feel about returning to work in the office? Do you think you will work from home more in the future?
I miss the buzz of the office, and I am sure I will return to being there most of the time when things get back to normal. But by the same token I think I am going to take advantage of the opportunity to work from home more frequently, particularly when I want some quieter thinking time. It is a privilege to have both options available.
I am not sure how any of us will look back at these months of 2020. There have been moments of considerable stress and anxiety, but on the other hand I will have some wonderful memories of collecting my daughters from their strange return flight from Nairobi amidst Kenya locking down, walks in the sunshine and giggles on the sofa.
What is your favourite sustainable snack?
My eldest daughter, who is 14, really enjoys cooking. She has been filling some of her time under lockdown making excellent peanut butter cookies and pizza (from scratch!). That sustains me!
If applicable, how is home schooling being managed in your household?
At first, my daughters were in Kenya, visiting their father, and they returned on a repatriation flight one month into lockdown. My 14-year old was due to be in Boston this term, so has no official home schooling, which has been difficult for her in terms of keeping busy. Luckily, she reads voraciously and is trying her hand at writing a novel.
The 10-year old’s home-schooling provision has been extremely poor, and trying to compensate for that has certainly been challenging and possibly the most stressful part of this experience. We do a little maths together every day, and she fills a lot of time drawing and modelling clay whilst listening to various audio books. Thank goodness for technology!
To view the previous articles from the Working from Home with … series see below: