Macquarie Podcast Series featuring Commodities and Global Markets
Speakers: Maia Mathieson, with Natasha Wirszycz
Recorded on 8 September 2020.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Macquarie Podcast Series featuring Commodities and Global Markets
Natasha: Hello, everyone. My name is Natasha Wirszycz and I'm an associate in the Commodity Investor Products and Quantitative Investment Strategies – or QIS – team in London. I'm delighted to welcome you to the sixth episode in our Macquarie Podcast Series, featuring Commodities and Global Markets. Today, I'm very pleased to welcome Maia Mathieson, Managing Director in the QIS team. So, Maia, thank you so much for joining us today. It's great to be back in the office with you. Can you start by giving us an insight into your career and how you got to where you are?
Maia: My pleasure. It's really nice to see your face again too. So, I've worked at Macquarie for eight years. And before that I worked at a big US bank for five years. I've always worked in sales, first focusing on commodity index products and in more recent years covering quantitative index products in all asset classes. Some of the products, clients and colleagues I've had, haven't changed since my first day on the job. So I feel like I have a lot of experience in certain things and developed a deep sense of trust with those who've been there since the beginning and supported me, but it's also amazing how much the role and our business has changed over the years. I've always felt like I'm learning something new and working to adapt and reinvent the business, so it's never been boring.
Natasha: Thanks, Maia. So before we talk about the QIS team, what advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Maia: I've received a lot of good advice over the course of my career, so I don't know if it's something I wished for but here are some quick things that I valued. First, turn off the autofill of addresses on your email. I nearly got myself fired sending an email to the wrong person in the first year of my job. Lastly, when you start managing people, someone told me your goal is to make yourself replaceable. You, Nat, are the living embodiment of that. Give as much as your time as possible into training and teaching the people in your team to do your job, and you'll get it back in spades over the years to come.
Natasha: As long as I'm not too replaceable! Was there one decision that helped you get to where you are or a person who was influential in your career, and what was so special about them?
Maia: Well, certainly the decision to come to Macquarie, it wasn't obvious on paper why I would leave. Things were going well, and the job that I had was something I'd really aspired to for a long time. But I had a lot of respect for Arun, who was my boss there, and he had moved to Macquarie to start the business from scratch. I really valued his mentorship and I thought he had an exciting vision, great attitude, and some really strong client relationships. And as you know, he's a fun person to work with. Then when I got to know Macquarie as a firm, particularly in commodities where we were focused at the time, I was amazed at the extent of what they were involved in. It took longer than we thought to get to where we wanted to be, but we did it in the end and senior management were really patient and supportive, so I haven't regretted the decision. What about you, Nat? You started as a grad and you've worked from New York and London. Why did you choose Macquarie, and what's the best advice you've been given?
Natasha: Yeah, so as you’ll know, before joining the team full-time in 2015, I interned with Macquarie the prior summer. And from my first day I was placed on the QIS desk, known as the CIP team at the time. I met with you, started learning about all things risk premium, and I loved that it piqued my intellectual curiosity. So, after my masters, joining full-time was a very easy decision. I was lucky enough that the opportunity arose, with your support, to work in New York in 2017, where I spent almost a year and a half covering the same products, but with a focus on North American clients, rather than EMEA, giving me helpful background to the difference in client types, as well as being a lot of fun personally. In terms of advice, I've been fortunate to learn from you, Arun and the broader team every day. One of the many pieces of advice you both gave me is to take the best of how other people do things and integrate that into your own style: so whether that's presenting a strategy, handling client interactions, or working with new people internally. Also, I'd say keep your eyes and ears open for everything that is going on. You need to be somewhat of an information sponge in your first years. And that is something that never stops being important. So what keeps me at Macquarie is several things: one of them is that I have a large set of responsibilities and the ability to implement changes in our business only five years into the job, which is something that's very attractive to me and something you wouldn't necessarily get in other companies. So, turning back to you, Maia, I wanted to ask about your experience as a working mother, how have you found it and what support did you receive to be able to balance your career and a family?
Maia: Well, firstly, I do object to the term ‘working mum’. We don't call the men in office ‘working dads’. That aside, I have to say becoming a parent is a real shock to the system. Nothing can prepare you for the first time. With my second, it has been a bit smoother in spite of the lockdown, but in both cases the firm has been really supportive of flexibility, working part-time at different stages and flexible hours to work around nursery. The team, you guys, have also been amazing. I feel incredibly grateful for this and compared to friends at other banks and other types of jobs, I'm actually really happy with the balance that I've found, but it only works for me because my husband quit his job in finance to work somewhere that gave him the same flexibility as me, as we split all of our duties 50/50. That's why I'm incredibly supportive of Macquarie’s new parental leave policy, which gives greater flexibility and six months’ leave to everyone in the primary carer role, regardless of gender. And then aside from parenthood, I think it's really important to give flexibility to all genders, whether it's to look after kids, elderly, parents, whatever family set-up people have. What about you, Nat? How did you find it when I was off?
Natasha: Well, definitely nothing on having an actual baby, but it did take a lot more work and focus as you have fewer people on the desk. But you did prepare us very well in the run-up to your maternity leave, and our aim of having the sales team included in all communications was incredibly helpful. So, it happened as smoothly as possible. Arun and Thomas and Caitlyn on our sales team in London also did an excellent job of stepping up to the increased responsibility we all had. My mantra was WWMD – what would Maia do? – which definitely helped a lot. So, Maia I'd like to turn to the QIS team now. Would you mind giving us a snapshot of what the team does?
Maia: Well, as you know, the scope of what we do in this team is really broad, but I'll try and give a very short summary, which is we give clients access to a range of quantitative investment strategies. Breaking that down, the clients tend to be institutional investors, such as asset managers and pension funds, but we also work with hedge funds, insurance companies, and others, anyone really looking to make a return. Quantitative investment strategies are products which use a predefined set of rules to decide what to invest in and when. So, rather than a human decision maker, the team build indices which use these quantitative techniques. Some of the indices give market exposure, for example, something like the S&P500 in equities but with some outperformance or enhancements, and some are market neutral. So they try to deliver a return regardless of what macro markets are doing. And others have a specific goal, like deliver a return when markets sell off, but otherwise do nothing. We cover all asset classes and we're now approximately 50 people globally across sales, trading, structuring and quant teams. And having started with around 10 people eight years ago, this really points to the growth of popularity in these types of strategies and the broader market and the support from senior management at Macquarie to invest in our business.
Natasha: And Maia, what competitive advantage or edge would you say we have in the QIS or cross-asset space?
Maia: The platform that the tech and quant team have built, and the strength of that team, is a really core part of our competitive advantage. For example, we can create highly complex and bespoke strategies pretty quickly, which has really helped us overtake some competitors, particularly in the recent fast-moving markets. The investment by Macquarie into the tech platform, data and people has enabled us to bring clients solutions with complex strategies, intraday execution, machine learning and more. We've also built a really good team in structuring – incredibly experienced and smart people.
Natasha: So, the QIS team is a global business. Where does most business take place in this QIS world?
Maia: So, our efforts are pretty split between the US and Europe, and then a smaller proportion in Asia and Australia, but it's growing a lot there. And then you recently executed our second deal in Africa. Congrats! Why don't you talk about how that one came about?
Natasha: Thanks, Maia. Yeah, so while I was leading the client discussions alongside our colleagues in FX, I think this deal is a real testament to the global and integrated nature of our QIS team. It involved discussions with the client, their consultants, and our structuring team to come up with a product which best suited their aims. The product ended up being a cross-asset basket of risk premia strategies. So we then had discussions with trading on the different implementation vehicles. And then there was heavy involvement from our index calculation, quant, legal and operation teams to get all the pipes set up for trading an option on this basket. So it really was a full team effort between and across divisions. So, Maia, if we look at just this year, markets have been particularly volatile. How do you help clients navigate this volatility? And how do your defensive strategies work during these challenging market conditions?
Maia: I think that ties back into what we just spoke about. Our strategies are designed for long-term investment, but the reality is that clients need to be able to adapt and risk manage in different market conditions. Being able to create new indices really quickly has been important, as well as being able to break down the risks often across tens or hundreds of individual positions and help our clients trade in and out of them quickly. Then obviously keeping the clients informed has been important too. People who've had so many things to keep on top of, in terms of markets and their personal lives, trying to distil the key information that we have on what the market is doing and why has been more important than ever.
Natasha: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, Maia, and it was incredibly helpful that you came back from maternity leave when you did this year. So turning to a different part of our business, ESG funds – or environmental, social and governance funds – have attracted record inflows during the crisis. How active is the team in this space?
Maia: That's a really great question. As you know, we had a call on that topic this morning with one of our clients and it's a difficult one. In certain asset classes or areas of investment, there's a lot of movement of assets and research focus. Macquarie is deeply involved in the renewable energy space, but in our area of quant investment and in particular for commodities and fixed income, the principles of how to apply ESG considerations to those products are still nascent. So we’re actively trying to learn more about what can be done and offer expertise and access where we can in areas like carbon trading and offsets where we have a big presence, but equally we want to be wary of rushing out solutions that don't make sense or green-washing products just for a marketing boost. I think the environmental part of ESG will probably be the most relevant though for us. And the important thing for us is to be talking to as many people as possible and partnering with our clients to help them transition to a low-carbon economy and giving them the tools to meet their carbon-related goals.
Natasha: So, Maia, what does a typical day look like for you?
Maia: Well, a couple of times a week, my alarm goes off at 5:45 and I try to do some kind of exercise. Despite 13 years of it, as you probably realise, I'm really not a morning person, so this is a challenge. Then at 7, we get the kids up: they’re now two and a half, and the newest one is 10 months. My daughter obviously takes after me and hates to get out of bed, so I'm really working hard in the morning. Then I try to get to my home desk by 8 or 8:30 and hopefully going forward into the office around then too. Then during the day, it's pretty varied. As you know, our deals can take months, sometimes years to materialise, so we are usually working across different parts of that process across our range of clients. So most days would involve some combination of trying to find new clients to connect with, initial discussions and education calls, getting into the weeds on different strategies, and then working with structuring to explain the rules of a strategy, run more detailed analysis, or finalising the intricacies of a trade and getting all the legal and operational set-ups sorted. Then the day goes pretty quickly. I try to pick up the kids at 4.30 or my husband does, but either way, when I'm working from home, I can't really escape them. So I have sometimes been taking a couple of hours to help with bedtime and bath time, and then come back to the desk and finish things off for an hour or two, then have dinner, read a book, whatever. I don’t watch loads of TV, but I did love The Last Dance. I think I'd like to be Pippen, but I think the reality, and as some people have told me, I'm more of a D-Rod. Did you watch it?
Natasha: I didn't.
Maia: You’re definitely a Steve Kerr. You probably need to take a look. What about you, Nat? What are you doing all day?
Natasha: Yeah, so I'd say my day is pretty similar to yours, obviously apart from the kids. But as you say, it is pretty varied. I think the most exciting thing for me is when we have a call with a client and we're able to find a product or strategy that fits exactly what that client is looking for, because it means that both sides are working towards the same thing and there's lots of motivation to get deals done. Our flexible platform has been very key to having more and more conversations like this. So, Maia, looking forward, as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, what are your key takeaways personally and professionally?
Maia: Well, I think it's early to say we're emerging. I mean, obviously we've emerged to the office today to record this podcast, but I think it's pretty early for takeaways. I'm much more inclined to sit back and observe before drawing big conclusions, but professionally I'm happy with how a lot of our strategies have performed so far over the crisis. I think it showed the benefit of some of the things we were speaking about for a while, even before this pandemic, such as having a diversified portfolio of strategies, including commodities in the mix, which have performed very well, and thinking really carefully about implementation and extreme price move scenarios, as well as including a range of more defensive strategies. Personally, I'm simply grateful for the position I'm in and I'm much more aware of my privilege to have a job, health and family nearby.
Natasha: So how would you sum up the next 12 months for the QIS team?
Maia: I think it's really exciting. I mean, I feel really positive about our pipeline that we've been working on together and the feedback from clients on the team and the platform is good. I think people have taken the time to digest the initial shock of the situation and then are repositioning and re-risking their portfolios. And we've seen that materialise in trades in the last few weeks and I expect that trend should continue until the end of the year. And that's why we're continuing to grow the team. As you know, we've got a new grad joining next year and hopefully an intern. What would you say to these intern candidates that are applying? Why do you think they should choose us?
Natasha: Well, I know for me the aspect which caught my eye the most, and I didn't realise the full potential of it until I was actually at Macquarie, is the fact that even at a more junior level, you do get a lot of responsibility and visibility on the business. So where you might be one of a few in other banks, you are perhaps a more integral part of the team at Macquarie. So if you are someone who likes exposure to clients and wants to be thrown in the deep end, of course with support from your manager, then this is an excellent place to start your career. Also, as you mentioned, our team is very focused on the grassroots with interns and graduates. We have all personally felt the positive impacts this can bring. So every year I've been here, we've had summer interns and grads, whether that's in sales trading or structuring or some combination. So, I'd very much encourage anybody listening to take a look at all the resources and information and on our website and LinkedIn. So, Maia, thank you very much for that insight into your career and the QIS team. For those listening, thank you for joining today's podcast. I hope it has provided some inspiration as you consider your own careers. We look forward to welcoming you to the next episode in the podcast series next month.
Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the Macquarie Podcast Series.
Audio file available for download below.