‘If not a fund manager, I would have been an adviser’

Lakshmi Iyer, Chief Investment Officer (Debt) & Head Products, Kotak Mutual Fund talks to Morningstar about what inspired her to become a fund manager, the challenges of her job and more.
By Morningstar Analysts |  08-03-17 | 

What do you think are the reasons for underrepresentation of women managers in India and globally?

Fund management, like various other fields, has lesser woman participation – both India as well as globally. Key to this is the ‘stress’ associated with the scope of work involved. Money management is a virtual 24-hour job – as you need to track Japan, which is ahead of you in time zone to US, which is behind you.

Added to that is the lack of adequate family/eco system support which makes the participation rate even poorer. Lastly, the notion that fund management is a ‘man’s world’ leads to natural weeding out of women who may want to attempt this role.

 What attracted you to fund management?

Fund management is a dynamic role. Hence, the scope for monotony is limited. There are various factors which need to be tracked at various points in time both global and domestic. The sheer agility required to be able to do this multiple ball juggling act attracted me to fund management.

In your journey as a fund manager, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Challenges are there in every profession, and to some extent it is gender neutral. The challenges at entry level tends to vary from the mid or senior level issues.

As a woman, the challenges do get linked to their marital status, and then later parenthood status. In my case, despite having a great support system, challenges post parenthood were daunting. A job, which is your passion, v/s a child who needs undivided attention will be a dilemma for most mothers and I wasn’t an exception. Fortunately, a great working environment with a fantastic support from my family helped me stick on and overcome this challenge.

Do you think diversity in team brings about better results, in terms of investment decisions and performance?

Most certainly. As per a McKinsey study done in 2007, in relation to the industry average, corporations with mixed gender executive teams achieve 48% higher profits before taxes! Women are adept at multi-tasking as they manage work front and home too. Hence, the right blend of IQ plus EQ could help in bringing about better results in performance too.

What would be your advice to budding women fund managers?

Depth of a swimming pool can be intimidating even to a 6-footer if he/she doesn’t know swimming! Likewise, just by hearing good or bad experiences w.r.t. fund management should not be a deciding factor for a woman wanting to take the plunge into this function. This industry certainly needs more women to offer a reasonable gender balance. My advice to the aspiring woman out there is “Go take the plunge. It is certainly worth it.” Also, after having taken the plunge, swim on. It’s practice that will help you graduate from an amateur to a virtuoso.

Given your hectic work schedule, how do you strike work-life balance?

It has not been possible to get the ‘perfect’ balance always. But the key is that we all have 24 hours and we need to make the most out of it. We need to ‘take out’ time for things which may seem small given our professional pursuits. But let me tell you difficult it may seem but certainly not impossible.

If not a fund manager, you would have been…

Adviser. There is a huge potential for quality advice in this country where financial literacy is still not very high.

What are the major positive and negative factors that can impact the fixed income market?

Currently, markets seem to be gyrating under more headwinds than tailwinds. For starters, the accommodative to neutral monetary policy stance has spooked sentiments. Next, the higher than expected hawkish stance of the US Fed will weigh on market sentiments. This would be maybe just one more rate cut through remainder of 2017. On the positive side, the abundance in liquidity continues, which has keep shorter term yields supported. The headline consumer inflation (CPI) continues to remain way below RBI’s target of 5% and may not be very distant from the March 2018 target of 4%. Credit growth in the banking system is still quite anaemic which may not allow for huge spike in lending rates immediately.

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