Syz Group positions for better days with expansion plans

Swiss-based Syz & Co Group, encompassing the three business lines of private banking, institutional asset management and Oyster Funds, has been investing in the business, anticipating “better days” as the business cycle turns and global economic growth resumes.

Oyster Funds CEO Xavier Guillon (pictured) said far from cutting back, this was the perfect time to invest. “This is the moment to take some risk, to climb the wall of worry. Behavioural finance suggests that mindset is critical to success.”

Founded in 1996 by Eric Syz, Alfredo Paicentini and Paolo Luban, the Syz & Co Group is a relative newcomer to the Swiss banking sector, but fund selectors say it has quickly established its credentials via its independent status, focused activity and fund performance.

Guillon said Oyster Funds responded quickly after the onset of the global financial crisis. Instead of marketing more aggressively the products it had, it changed the suite of products to meet client requirements.

“We had to fix and upgrade the product suite, delivering what clients wanted then, but also positioning for when they might want to take on more risk.” Under the Oyster Sicav brand, an Emerging Markets Opportunities fund was added, alongside the creation of a dedicated index.

Other additions were a European equity fund, which was a first percentile performer last year, a high dividend strategy which addressed investors’ quest for yield, a Japan Opportunities fund and a high yield product in the fixed income space.

“Unlike other groups, we created the products first, and then started marketing,” explains Guillon. The group addressed Switzerland, its core home market first, aiming to ensure that all funds reached the critical €100 million milestone as quickly as possible. New share classes are added according to demand.

While other firms were cutting as recession loomed, Syz was hiring. “It is easier to hire in a difficult market,” noted Guillon. “We brought in new talent, and became known for new ideas. People like that. They are prepared at least to listen, to hear what a talented manager has to say.”

Oyster Funds has what Guillon calls a private equity approach to marketing, where “seeders” back a fund up to €20 million, then “early birds” take it to €100 million, before “mainstream investors” join in. Sometimes those stages are redundant: the Oyster US Equity fund leapt to €60 million from Day 1.

Oyster Funds, with 25 strategies in the range, combines internal and external manager partners. Guillon said there are no plans to add significantly to the number of products. “We are comfortable at this level. I would say that up to 30 strategies is fine, it doesn’t change the dynamic of the business model.

“What you want to avoid is adding more cost but not necessarily more real choice. If we had 100 strategies many investors would simply say, ‘OK, can you show me the top three’, so a very extended range sometimes doesn’t really add more value. Investors are over-solicited anyway.”

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