Anja Nieberding has been representing the asset manager NN Investment Partners as Country Head Germany since June 2019. This belongs to the Dutch insurer NN Group, which is one of the five largest companies in the Netherlands. Previously, she worked at Vontobel Asset Management and at Goldman Sachs. Now, as Country Head Germany, she has a beautiful view of the skyline of the Main metropolis and the ECB from her office at Westhafenplatz 1 in Frankfurt.
Ms. Nieberding, when one reads your CV, one immediately notices that you have a degree in mathematics. That's an unusual field of study for women - at least in Germany. Can you explain why that is?
Before I started studying mathematics, I was a trainee at Deutsche Morgen Grenfell in London for two years. I also worked in the quant team there, and I particularly enjoyed the equity derivatives area. There were some mathematicians in the international team in London. Somehow the colleagues there were exciting role models for me, and mathematics has always interested me. As a result, I went on to study mathematics. I wanted to look deeper into the products and study a subject that could bring me back to the world of finance later.
How high was the proportion of women in your studies - approximately?
I studied at the TU in Munich, there we were about 30% women. The TUM specifically offers financial and business mathematics. Many of my female fellow students are now employed in the insurance industry as actuaries or work in fields where they can also apply mathematics practically. In the beginning, we had lectures together with physicists. There the rate was only about 10%, or even less. So the combination of mathematics and economics seems to attract more women.
How did you get into the fund industry? Was that always your desire?
From my London experience, it was the securities world that fascinated me. During my studies in Munich, I also did internships at Allianz in Asset Management and at the Boston Consulting Group. Towards the end of my studies, I then did interviews at various banks and found that asset management was the most interesting for me because it brings together asset management and consulting. I find it exciting to think strategically with clients and find concepts that fit.
As a mathematician, what makes it attractive for you to work in the fund industry?
I have always had a penchant for quantitative strategies. At times, I worked in the insurance team and was also involved in analytical studies; mathematics helped me a lot there, too. My mathematical training helps me to question what is behind certain investment concepts or strategies. In my current job, this background helps me by abstracting things and therefore being able to recognize larger contexts.
You currently head the German business of NN Investment Partners. What does your day-to-day work look like?
Unser Augenmerk ist es, hier in Deutschland die bestmöglichen Strategien für unsere vorwiegend institutionellen Kunden zu entwickeln und zur Verfügung zu stellen, also für Versicherungen, Pensionskassen, Banken, Stiftungen und so weiter. Daneben betreuen wir auf der Wholesale-Seite entsprechende Vertriebspartner, entwickeln mit ihnen Lösungen und vermarkten sie.
So you go along to the customers?
Yes, and very much so! Beyond that, my job is to support the team here in Germany as best I can and to position NN IP successfully in the market. To do this, I look at what we still need from our parent company on the investment or structure side. I am also in close contact with the global organization to ensure that we are well positioned internationally. Germany is a market that has grown well in recent years. We are pleased about that, but we are doing this in close exchange with our colleagues internationally.
Do you have an example of international exchange?
That was, for example, an exchange with our colleagues in France. They had projects on the trade finance side and we had customers and operational experience that we could make available to our colleagues in Paris. With our Swiss colleagues, we had joint pitches on corporate bonds. Green bonds and alternative credits are also an important field for us, where we work closely with our Dutch colleagues. In principle, as a global team, we like to create new solutions and structures from which we can then benefit internationally.
How many employees are there in the German office?
A total of nine people, three of them for institutional customers, one for wholesale and two for customer service. One person is responsible for marketing at our company.
You previously worked for Goldman Sachs and Vontobel. In the course of your career, did you have the feeling that it was more difficult for you to make a career as a woman?
The advancement of women seems to be a big issue for the financial industry. My personal experience was that I was always looked at as a team member and not specifically as a woman. In my time at Goldman Sachs, they also looked at the diversity aspect. I embraced that with enthusiasm because there were women's initiatives there and we were exposed to female role models within the organization. However, when it came to promotions, I observed that the focus was on content delivered, and then promotions were given accordingly.
Unfortunately, not all women have experienced it that way. How can we improve the climate for women in our industry?
We should approach women very early on during their training or studies. It is important to show the breadth of the organization and the possible jobs in order to appeal to as many as possible. My observation is that women are often more cautious in choosing their careers and when it comes to accepting requirements. Basically, we need to make the financial world more accessible to women. This applies not only to job choices, but also to women's investment behavior.
What about NN Investment Partners... How do you attract young talent?
Here in the Frankfurt office, we only have senior customer advisors and one intern. That's why we tend not to be represented among young people. We are a mixed team here in Frankfurt, one third of which is female. That also corresponds roughly to the ratio at NN Investment Partners. There, about a third of the senior management team are women. At the level of sales colleagues, the ratio is even significantly higher, and when I look at the country managers at NN Investment Partners, more than half are female. The fact that we are already relatively far along here as a company is not surprising: the Dutch have always made fewer distinctions and also work very flexibly overall.
Was that a reason for you to join NN Investment Partners?
The first thing that appealed to me was the potential of NN Investment Partners for our clients in Germany. Then I liked the relaxed and at the same time professional manner of the Dutch. And above all, I was impressed by my boss, Hester Borrie. She heads the global client team, and it's fun to work with her and the other country managers. It simply sets a company apart when there are strong personalities in the management team to drive things forward.
One more question about the markets: Where do you currently see the best opportunities? Which of your funds will have the best sales figures this year?
The war in Ukraine represents a terrible change for the entire world. The financial markets are under severe pressure. Our focus is on getting through the current uncertain times well and supporting our customers as best we can. Certainly, people will continue to invest money, and I still see a lot of interest in that, especially in alternative strategies. A good example of this is infrastructure projects, which will continue to gain in importance as a result of the expansion of alternative energy sources.
Do you have your crystal ball with you right now? And could you tell us for which NN Investment Partners fund you see the greatest sales potential in 2022?
We have many exciting strategies and solutions. However, the war currently overshadows everything and makes it virtually impossible to answer this question. Our priority is to be there for our customers and to get through this time of uncertainty well.
Thanks, we'll have to get together again next year and see how much the world has changed!
Yes, gladly! At least one thing is certain - we will then already be part of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which bought NN Investment Partners. We are currently working on bringing the teams and the competencies together.
What regulation is particularly bothering you at the moment?
In particular, the Disclosure Regulation and the EU taxonomy. We are in the process of making the classifications for our funds. 10% of our fund investments are Article 9 classified, and 67% Article 8, so we are very far along compared to our competitors. But classification is not the end of the story; it is also about providing the relevant reports and data. Sustainability reporting is currently tying up a lot of capacity at our company.
You have a relatively large family. Obviously, you can combine family and job well...
I have four children, a daughter and three boys. I always wanted to have many children and continue my career. I'm not alone in this in my environment. My daughter will have no problem asserting herself later on, even if the male world still prevails. And my first son says that he doesn't understand why the women's issue is always so important. He had asked his friends and they had come to the conclusion that the mother is always the boss. Funny, isn't it?
Yes! Do you have a tip for other moms who are busy at work?
On the one hand, we women need courage to face challenges. And on the other hand, we have to remain calm, even if things aren't perfect. Otherwise, I'm already someone who likes to make high demands on myself and others. On the other hand, we must not drive ourselves crazy. We can't be everywhere all the time - that's especially true when it comes to children. You have to be able to let go sometimes, which is also good for the children's independence. We have built structures that are reliable and offer the family support. It's also very important to me that my husband and I are partners at eye level.
Thank you very much for the inspiring interview!
Foto: Holger Grupe