Argos Investment Managers eyes the UK to grow business

Argos Investment Managers was founded in 2005 by Philip Best and Cristofer Gelli with the idea of establishing a specialist asset manager that would invest in specific products in order to gain ground against bigger players.

Argos Investment Managers was born with the idea of moving away from
private banking and to create a boutique that would offer a number of
specialist high conviction investment strategies, mainly in equities, explains CEO Jean Keller.

Today, it is a firm that manages €320m in assets, and is confident
enough to start taking its first steps abroad – mainly in the UK and France.
But it has not always been easy for the Swiss manager which during the financial crisis saw many clients moving away from its long standing equity fund ‘Argonaut’ – a European microcap Ucits IV fund domiciled in Luxembourg – to find shelter in more secure assets such as bonds and other fixed income products.

Yet despite this setback, Keller says, good fund management ensured that, when compared with its peers, Argonaut did very well at a tempestuous time. Keller joined the company in 2011, which was a good time to add some new and more daring strategies. So in addition to Argonaut, Keller and his partners launched six different investment strategies to grow the business.

“Argonaut is still very much part of our business DNA, it’s still very important and very representative of what we do. However, the six strategies we added to it in 2011 helped us grow significantly over the last couple of years,” Keller says. The six strategies include one fixed income strategy; systematic, equity de-correlation, global equity and equity of real assets, mainly infrastructure.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Now that the firm has successfully grown its AUM and recession in Europe seems to be passing, Argos is looking at other markets to invest in, primarily the UK. After announcing its intentions to expand in the UK at the beginning of January, Argos hired Nick Hamwee as head of its UK operations.

Keller commented: “Our base in Geneva is at the heart of Europe. That provides us with a different outlook on the world when investing in European equities. That said, London remains the centre of the investment management world and so having a strong presence in both centres is an important part of our future strategy. Our view is that a two-centre approach will offer us a competitive advantage – the best of both worlds.”

Keller regards London as the “centre of the Empire” for the financial sector
– the place where talent grows and new ideas are generated. He says that Argos is searching for “original research and entrepreneurial culture” more than particular strategies. He adds that Argos’ decision to go abroad on the hunt for further investment opportunities is not motivated by macroeconomic factors but is more about the quality, strength and stability
of its own business.

Moreover, in Keller’s opinion, the rotation from bonds to equities that has in part taken place over 2013 plays in favour of investing in boutiques. “The great rotation has somehow shifted investment choices from ‘safe options’ to equities, which puts boutiques in the position of filling in that gap,” he says.

Argos has also recently been expanding its presence in France, where a series of market regulator rulings are said to have made it easier for foreign companies to enter the market. “The French market is a good
field to build asset management capabilities. They recently established a
seeding fund for new asset management firms and that’s helpful,” he says.

Looking more generally at Europe, Keller says he feels quite confident that the worst has passed. “Europe started 2014 with the awareness that it is not dead and now needs to answer the question of what to do next. I believe there is a good possibility that many European countries will start repaying their public debt and that will poise them for a good margin of growth,” he concludes.

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