When Geneva-based asset manager Unigestion SA decided to enter the Canadian market in April 2012, the firm had lofty ambitions. Unigestion spent many years researching the Canadian market and opened an office in Toronto confident that Canada could be its next big growth opportunity.
Unigestion has offices across Europe and North America and primarily offers investment and fund management services to high net-worth individuals and institutions. The firm also controls client focused equity portfolios and invests in private equity, where it concentrates on small and mid-sized companies.
“Our first Canadian mandate - Desjardins pension plan is the client - had its fifth anniversary in April,” says Remi Colcombet, Head of Institutional Clients, Canada at Unigestion. “We have consistently been growing over the last five years and recently hit $3 billion in Canadian assets. We have gained three new clients this year, and for one of them we are launching global ex-Canada pooled funds."
Unigestion’s Canadian clients are made up of pension plans and insurance companies who want to de-risk their equity portfolios by including convex returns or asymmetry in their portfolio profiles, Colcombet explains. It’s an area that has been fruitful for the firm and a space that Colcombet sees as offering ample opportunity for further growth.
Colcombet also attributes the firm’s impressive growth to its sustained efforts in the private equity space. Earlier this year, Unigestion merged its private equity business with Akina Partners, a firm that specializes in identifying investment opportunities in European markets. The merger has created a team of more than 50 specialists with more than $8billion in private equity AUM and the capacity to deploy more in small and mid-sized markets.
“At the moment, those markets (small and mid-sized) seem to have much more value than large and mega buyouts or even growth funds,” Colcombet says. “Large Canadian pension plans who are looking to diversify want some niche funds or a geographical focus. Europe is tough to navigate for North American investors so to embark with a specialist makes a lot of sense for those clients. The Akina acquisition was definitely a game changer.”
The “third pillar” of Unigestion’s Canadian growth strategy is the launch of a liquid, multi-asset Canadian pooled fund, which, Colcombet says, bears little similarity to a regular balanced fund.
“It is more diversified in terms of asset classes and it uses alternative techniques to smooth the returns and enhance the risk return of the Sharpe ratio,” he says. “So far, there has not been a lot of demand in multi-asset in Canada because balanced funds have done well over the past three-to-five years when markets were on the rise. I think that in the next crisis or when markets are tougher, people will realize the value of multi-asset funds.”
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