A Day in the Life – Bettina Edmondston

Bettina Edmondston, Global Analyst, fills us in on her typical day…

How do you start your working day?

My alarm goes off at the leisurely time of 6:40 and I listen to the news for a few minutes.  Currently, this gets my blood pressure going enough to make it out of bed before 7am. After a quick shower and 10min stroll down the hill, I’m on the bus at 7:30 and in the office by 8am.  At this point I will have checked all the emails and news that have come in over night or early in the morning. During result season, this could be quite a lot to take in before I hit the desk.

The first hour in the office is usually spent digesting all the newsflow, discussing with the team what implications there might be for our portfolio and if we have to act on any of this.

What does a typical day at Saracen Fund Managers look like for you?

No two days are the same at Saracen Fund Managers or indeed in this job. That’s why I still love it after almost 20 years in the industry. It’s so varied and interesting. I could get lost in an Excel spreadsheet for a couple of hours working out the growth potential for a Chinese sporting goods company.  This could be followed by meeting the management of a German chemical company and discussions about big global themes (ban of plastic, lighter materials for electric cars, innovation in food ingredients) and their business strategy over the next 3-5 years.

In general, 80% of my time is spent analysing business models and creating or updating our inhouse proprietary templates on a specific company. Here at Saracen, we have the freedom to choose what we want to look at. We are not constrained by a benchmark and we have no geographical requirements to fulfil. Neither are we burdened with bureaucracy or unnecessary meetings. We are a small team and what needs to be discussed is mostly done in an informal way. That leaves time for the interesting and highly productive part of this job, namely analysing companies.

I enjoy meeting clients to discuss our fund and outlook on the market. I find this very rewarding as we get to find out what our clients worry about and how they are positioned. The best part is the discussion and when we get challenged on our holdings or views on the world.

Tell us about your career so far.

I have had a very diverse career within the investment industry covering various positions and working in different countries. Starting off as an economic researcher at Brewin Dolphin in Edinburgh, I moved on to Scottish Widows Investment Partnership where I first worked with my colleagues Graham Campbell and David Keir. That’s the thing about Edinburgh, it is such a small place that you always come across the same people, either in different work places, at company meetings or at functions.

Over the next few years, I worked as an analyst for The Alliance Trust and Aegon (now Kames) covering the European and US markets and sectors ranging from Staples and Healthcare to Chemicals and Banking. In 2011, I moved to Zurich where I worked as a sell side analyst for Kepler Capital Markets. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I enjoyed our time in Switzerland. We decided to give Germany a go where I had a fund manager position working on a global Healthcare portfolio in Dusseldorf. But in the end, we returned to Scotland – back to where it all began. In 2015, I joined my previous colleagues here at Saracen and I haven’t looked back since.

What was the biggest learning curve in your career?

Don’t listen to the noise but trust your instincts. Unfortunately, there are so many commentators who all try to convince you their opinion is the right one. If working on the sell side has taught me one thing, it is to take these reams of research with a massive pinch of salt. These days we don’t spend much time reading research and we don’t meet analysts. We invest with a comparatively long-time horizon and we are not concerned about the next quarter. In our analysis we find more helpful information in annual accounts or management discussions rather than in re-hashed arguments.

We are not always right in our job. The important thing is not to lose confidence in your own analysis and gut instinct. Over time I have learned that sticking to my guns rather than following the herd tends to work out in the long run, even though sometimes it might be painful in the short term.

What advice would you give someone starting out as a fund manager today?

This might sound counterintuitive to the previous paragraph but “listen and learn”. When you first come out of university, you think you’ve learned it all out of text books and are ready to go. This job is about life long learning and there’s never an end to it. It’s not just learning about different business models, portfolio strategy or investment philosophy. It’s learning from your peers, people who have been through a couple of economic cycles, company managements, etc.

But most importantly it’s learning from your own mistakes, because you will make them. Some of them might be painful but the lesson is that you won’t repeat them. That’s why experience still counts so much in this industry. If you don’t have an enquiring mind and a willingness to be open to criticism, this is not the job for you.

What is the company culture at Saracen Fund Managers?

My colleagues and I have all worked for large investment houses where your main job gets interrupted by bureaucracy and endless meetings, which half the time are unproductive. We are very streamlined here at Saracen. Most back office functions are outsourced. There are no strategy meetings and no “time wasting” meetings. We sit in a semicircle and communication is ad hoc and straight to the point.

Another aspect is that we are all on the same level. Each person’s opinion counts the same. There is virtually no hierarchy at Saracen. We’ve all worked with people who think their views and beliefs are superior to others. We do challenge each other but it is in done in a constructive way as we all want the best performance for our funds and company rather than proving a point.

Any favourite haunts for lunch?

As I’m recovering from years of back pain, I try to go swimming as much as I can at lunch time. In reality, that probably only happens twice a week. Eventually, I want to be fit enough to go back to lunch time running.

If we go out as a team, we like to go to a small Italian place called Quattro Zero, just around the corner from our office. For a while it was called our canteen! It’s cheap and cheerful and great for an informal lunch. If you want to make me really happy, take me to Kyloe for a nice steak. I can’t say no to that.

How do you relax in the evening after a long day?

On the way home I obviously have to climb back up the hill that I had a leisurely walk down in the morning. We live on the side of Arthur’s Seat and if you know Edinburgh, you are aware that it can be quite steep in places. If it’s a nice day, my husband might drag me out to walk up the rest of the hill, which is another ½ hour. But you get rewarded with fantastic views over the city, the Lothians, the Firth of Forth and Fife. I always find it amazing to live in the middle of a cosmopolitan city and still have access to a big park and a hill to climb basically at the back of our garden.

On the weekends we try to get out for day trips, either by train or on the motorbikes or for another longer hill walk (depending on the famous Scottish weather). There are so many places you can reach within 1-2hrs from Edinburgh, like Glasgow, Newcastle, the Perthshire hills, Loch Lomond, Northumberland…. The world is your oyster. I never get bored.