Being a graduate in asset management

Finbarr Bermingham speaks to M&G's Holly Johnstone, a recent recruit at the leading asset management firm, about exciting opportunities here for graduates interested in business management
Asset management
Doing the job

Asset management firms invest assets on behalf of their clients - in the case of M&G, these range from individuals to large institutional investors such as pension funds. M&G is one of the market leaders in the UK, and currently manages over £194 billion (as of 30 September 2011) of assets for clients across the world.

The Commercial Management Scheme is designed to develop employees' leadership and management skills, with the aim of enabling the firm's investment teams to perform successfully.

How did you end up on the M&G commercial management graduate scheme?

I studied economics and politics at the University of Edinburgh and during my penultimate summer, I did some work experience with a bank in Hong Kong.

I knew I wanted to work in finance, but had a generalist mentality. I didn't know specifically what I wanted to do, but was interested in understanding how a business works and the management side of things, so M&G's Commercial Management Scheme stood out for me. It allows you to work across lots of different areas of the firm's business without specialising in any of them until later. I didn't want to be pigeon-holed.

I also knew that asset managers were in a more favourable position than many banks. They emerged relatively well from the financial crisis and I was attracted by the security that offers.

What sort of training have you received during your time at M&G?

Before I started, I had a general idea about the kind of financial instruments M&G invests in. I knew a bit about fixed income and equities, but didn't know much about how fund management works. But the training we received upon starting was comprehensive, which brought everyone up to the same level.

I met the other graduates on the first day and we spent the next six weeks out of the office with an external training firm. This time gave us an excellent overview of the financial markets and financial instruments, and helped us develop our hard and soft skills. We had a couple of days' training on Excel and on presentation skills, which were really useful, since they're both a big part of the job. The first five weeks covered a range of topics related to the asset management industry, while the final week was spent preparing for our Investment Management Certificate (IMC) exam, which we took when we returned to M&G.

I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of backgrounds among the graduates. The mathematical techniques I learnt from my degree have been useful, but the training was so inclusive that nobody felt at a disadvantage. One girl on the scheme studied natural sciences at university but was interested in a career in finance. Thanks to the comprehensive training plan, any knowledge gaps were smoothed out.

How are you finding the scheme so far?

We entered the office in November after we completed the training. My first rotation was in the business change department and lasted three months. Business change provides solutions to problems faced by all the business areas at M&G, and also responds to external stimuli such as regulation and new technology.

I've been fully included in everything from the outset. I've been invited along to meetings, gone to meet clients, and been involved in conversations with very senior staff. I've already worked on an important project, where I looked at some aspects of how over-the-counter derivatives are traded in order to ensure we're in line with incoming regulation. The crux of the job was finding a clearing broker, and one of my main tasks was to produce the criteria by which we would select this broker. After completing the research, I was then involved in a steering meeting on the issue with lots of very senior people. I could see the work I'd done being put to use by senior executives, which felt very rewarding.

The average day runs from 8.30am - 5.30pm, which is not bad for a job in financial services. I'm now into my second rotation in the retail fixed interest investment specialist team. First thing in the morning, my floor convenes for a market update, in which we get up to speed with what's happened over the past 24 hours. I then spend some time replying to emails and managing my schedule for the day. I always have a number of meetings and presentations from which I learn a lot. Yesterday, I went to a presentation by an economist who specialises in the Japanese fixed income market, which was very interesting.

My manager shows a genuine interest in my training and development. For instance, he might sit me down and help me use the Bloomberg terminal. The other day, he asked me to produce some graphical indicators for some of the fund managers. He talked me through the technicalities of it, then left me to it. It feels good to be given so much responsibility on important projects.

It's a grown-up working environment at M&G, but not a stifled one - it's lots of fun and people are happy to help each other. I'm sat two desks away from one of the top fund managers and if I ever have any questions, they're very helpful. Before the end of each day, I usually spend some time shadowing a colleague. Just this afternoon, I shadowed a team member who did a client call. That's the kind of thing I'm building up to do at the end of this rotation, so it's good to hear how other people do it.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the responsibility I've been given - the work I'm doing is meaningful and I feel like an important part of the team already. I'm also delighted with the people and the culture. Everyone takes such an interest in the graduates and it's been quite easy to build up a network.

I got close to the other graduates during the training period and we've maintained these friendships. Most days, we meet for lunch and we catch up outside work as much as possible. For instance, we went to watch some tennis at the O2 recently, and a few of us are training to do the Berlin Half Marathon together.