Banque Syz sets sail for Europe, and then Asia

Xavier Guillon, chief executive of Oyster Funds, tells Peter Kenny that acquiring the best talent is the key to fund allocation

The focus on securing the best talent is the reason the CHF6.5bn Oyster Funds group Xavier Guillon heads n­ormally uses internal fund managers, but engages ­outside expertise when needed.

“Our aim is to generate substantial added value for our clients by seeking the best talent.

Our managers have an active and non-indexed management approach, which is based on strong convictions,” he says.

“Our core group of funds are managed by internal fund managers.

However, for asset classes where we don’t have a strong expertise internally, we rely on external fund managers to manage our funds.

To find and select these talents, we’ve put in place a dedicated fund analysis and manager selection team.”

Guillon was appointed CEO of Oyster Funds, a fund family of the Swiss banking group Banque Syz & Co, in October 2010.

A French national, he joined Syz three years earlier and was in charge of its services to independent asset managers before succeeding Alan Mudie.

In ­addition to being CEO of Oyster Funds, Guillon is also head of ­Advisory Services at Syz.

Before joining Syz, Guillon spent 14 years in New York and London with Brown Brothers Harriman, the largest private bank in the US, where he sold research to ­institutional clients.

He holds an MBA in international marketing from the George Washington University School of Business.

Since he took over, Oyster has performed well along with the other components in the group.

He says the first step in Oyster’s selection process is a quantitative performance and style-based process to sift through the funds to be considered.

“The team then contacts the remaining fund managers in order to gather basic qualitative information, such as RFPs, fact sheets and marketing presentations.

This ­information will enable them to reduce the number of potential fund managers down to between five and ten.

“Finally, they organise conference calls and presentations with the finalists, and present them to the Selection Committee.

The entire process can take from three to six months to complete.”

In April, Syz said it had a 30.3% increase in assets under management in 2010, reaching CHF24.8bn, despite the numerous uncertainties that weighed on the markets.

Then in May, Syz said that according to rankings established by data house Fund Buyer Focus, Oyster ranks among the top 20 European distributor list of preferred fund management brands and that it had moved up eight positions.

“Oyster is the fund manager that progressed the most in a year,” it said, noting it as an “acknowledgement of the high quality of our fund range and of the good image our funds have in the eyes of professionals.”

While Oyster may venture outside for fund managers when they are needed, Guillon is particular about their attributes.

“Fund managers must be aligned with our investment culture and philosophy. They should also have a strong and consistent performance track record,” he says.

“Due to our active and non-indexed management approach, we tend to favour a stock-picking/ bottom up approach.

We are currently satisfied with our range of funds and fund managers, but we continuously monitor market trends and seek out new talents.”

Commitment To Performance

At the end of March, Syz said ten of Oyster’s flagship ­sub-funds had registered in the UK and have been approved for public distribution, thereby broadening its offering with funds available to a wider audience.

At the time, Syz said the move reflected “the growing demand from investors in the UK for actively ­managed portfolios with a proven track record of strong ­performance, innovation and risk management”.

Syz’s approach to asset management, according to the company, combines the independence and ­service quality of traditional private banking, with a clear ­commitment to investment performance, through a ­performance-based fee system.

Syz has had a three-pronged strategy aimed at securing a place first in Switzerland, then the rest of Europe and then Asia. Based in Geneva, it has 400 employees.

The group has other offices in Zurich, Lugano and Locarno in Switzerland, as well as in Milan, Rome, Madrid, London, ­Luxembourg, Vienna, Nassau and Hong Kong.

In announcing Guillon’s appointment in October, Syz said: “Xavier Guillon’s objective will be to build a powerful distribution machine and to develop new markets, in particular in Asia, where the Hong Kong office will act as a bridgehead for the distribution of the Group’s products in the region.”

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