Sun, 12 March 2017
This week’s podcast features two guests, both from Acadian Asset Management, Churchill Franklin and John Chisholm. Join us as we discuss what Cognitive Diversity is, why it is important, why companies find it challenging to implement and where the future of finance is going.
Churchill Franklin is the CEO of Acadian Asset Management and John Chisholm is the Chief Investment Officer at Acadian. Acadian is an institutional asset manager, managing roughly 75 billion for investors. They invest in equities all around the world, both in the US and developed markets, as well as emerging markets. Acadian follows a very quantitative approach towards investments. They build models that help predict returns and invest in those securities in which are believed will likely generate the best returns, to build the best portfolios. The culture is one of listening – to both clients and colleagues in trying to be proactive in responding to the market place.
Acadian employs 320 people with a main office in Boston and additional sites in London, Sydney, Singapore and Tokyo. Found are investment, marketing and operation professionals. They come from a variety of backgrounds such as finance, science and math and often there is a benefit to have traditional investment backgrounds - but not always necessary.
Both Churchill and John come from diverse backgrounds. John went to MIT and started in aerospace engineering. After going back to business school, he joined up with Churchill to launch Acadian in the mid 80’s and runs the investment side of the firm. Churchill leads the culture and leadership. He started with a degree in American literature from Middlebury College, was a commercial banker for a while, became a treasurer in a company and then moved to start Acadian.
Churchill and John are examples of implementing Cognitive Diversity. They deeply believe that the more perspectives around the table the better for their business and ultimately for their clients. The diversity is demonstrated by having a variety of backgrounds, personalities and individual perspectives that bring various points of view to discussions.
Research has shown that having groups with diverse thinking styles will generally perform better than having a homogenous group. This is true for mixed gender groups as well – research has shown they perform better, as well. With a more diverse group, discussions can test a variety of theories with other points of view.
These different perspectives bring different ways of problem solving – there may be those that use intuition, some may test out ideas, others may use some type of rigorous, theoretical frameworks to find a solution. Each of these can contribute the thought diversity that is needed to find the best answer to a problem.
Acadian uses a variety of methods to find those employees that are a best fit for their firm. Depending upon the role they are seeking to fill, they may probe a candidate’s thinking processes with questions such as…how much water would it take to fill up an office? The answer is not the critical aspect here; rather it is the thought process that the interviewee took to get there.
The different thought processes might include the fairly common way to go about it – the logical chain of answers. It might also include where one starts at a high level and breaks the problem into pieces or an experimental approach. Each of these may be a valid response and depending on the position being filled may work.
Cognitive Diversity is often a challenge to achieve. It is ‘easier’ to hire people that think alike, laugh at the same jokes and so on. One way to avoid this is to ensure that you have interview teams made up of diverse thinkers. This will help to avoid getting pigeon-holed into a particular style.
When asked how the world of finance has changed in the last decade, Churchill and John noted the huge growth in the availability of data as well as the tools that allow the data to be understood. This has led to a critical demand in the use of a quantitative approach. There is a wide range of interesting and perhaps, unusual types of data available. For instance, the use of satellite data is relatively new. This may include looking at the directions or activity of shipping containers in a particular region. It may also include the brightness of lighting in certain areas. This can assist in forecasting.
One future trend in the finance world is understanding how the role of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing can be profitable. These ‘socially conscious’ investments previously needed to have reduced return expectations on investments but it seems that Europe and Australia are ahead on this aspect and there will be more to come on this subject.
What you will learn in this episode: