Charlotte Bänninger is Head Fixed Income and President of UBS Asset Management Switzerland AG. Fondsfrau Anke Dembowski talks to her about her career and why she enjoys working with women.
Charlotte, you can look back on a great career in asset management. What developments have you observed in terms of opportunities for women during this time?
I started my professional career in 1987 as a trainee at UBS (then SBG), around two months before Black Monday 1987. I was fresh from university at the time and had hardly any practical experience, but I was glad that there were other women in this training program. My first stage was on the stock exchange, followed by research, and finally I got into portfolio management. After my trainee program, I wanted to stay in portfolio management because that's where I liked it best. But my supervisor at that time at SBG had concerns about hiring a woman as a portfolio manager. That was in 1989, at that time there were no women in portfolio management at SBG. But when his superior asked him to hire "Fräulein Bänninger", it finally worked. Back then, the banking environment was much more masculine than it is today, but that never really bothered me. I had a good friend and work colleague in the rank of a director who ran the emerging markets desk. When she became a mother, she wanted to work 80%. That was absolutely not possible at that time, and so she started her own business.
And how did you go on?
I enjoyed my job, and when I later got into a management position for Switzerland, the first women worked with me. I thought that was great. I've been working with this colleague for 25 years now. Over time, more and more women came to us, and in my team in Zurich we were sometimes up to 50 percent women. Even today, the Head of Fixed Income Research, Head Investment Specialist, Head Euro Corporate Strategy and Head PM Quantitative are all women and are based in Zurich. I don't think there are many investment teams in Switzerland with such a high percentage of women. We also already have a number of women in senior positions at UBS, which is encouraged by the management.
How does this affect other women? For example, for those who want to apply to UBS?
It clearly encourages women to apply to us. You can see that there is a woman at the top and that the team is otherwise very diverse. That is a much smaller hurdle to feel comfortable than in a team that consists exclusively of 'middle aged white men'. And for me, too, it is very pleasant to work with a mixed team.
How is that?
Portfolio management is a very analytical, numbers-driven story. When there are more women on the team, there is more communication and the mood is simply better because it is more relaxed. Then it's easier to criticize or ask a teammate to do something differently.
Did it happen by chance that there are so many women on your team, or did you specifically work towards this?
It's not a coincidence. It is well known that mixed teams perform better simply because they have different ways of looking at the markets. I think it's great when we discuss things in a diversified manner and from many different perspectives.
Das Bewusstsein gibt es aber nicht nur bei mir im Team. Seit Ende 2019 ist Suni Harford President UBS Asset Management und auch für sie ist „Diversity & Inclusion“ ein wichtiges Thema. Und Aleksandar Ivanovic, Head Client Coverage und Chef Region Schweiz&EMEA UBS Asset Management, fördert dasselbe in einer Arbeitsgruppe für UBS Region Schweiz.
Of course, it is not always easy to find a woman for a vacant position. The Fondsfrauen did the “Fearless Girls” study, where we were also a sponsor. The study showed that women in German-speaking countries are not yet so open to studying finance. On the other hand, I have heard that in Spain, for example, it is quite natural that women study mathematics.
How does it look internationally?
We often discuss this with my peers in the US, London and Asia. It's not just about gender diversification, the cultural background also plays an important role. In the Zurich team we are 25 people from nine different nations. Different professional backgrounds are also important, we don't just need mathematicians, finance scientists and quants. Experience shows that employees who have successfully completed a four-year banking apprenticeship in Switzerland are extremely performance-oriented and successful. In addition, generational diversity is becoming more important as well, especially when fewer workers come onto the market. The experience of older employees is important and a company can benefit from it.
What is it like when employees have children? Can you then continue your career?
Yes, in our team four colleagues have children and that works very well. Now, I have to say, because it would have been difficult in the past. However, it turns out that women / mothers work very efficiently on a part-time basis. As long as the substitute is arranged and the employee is flexible and well organized at home, you can also work part-time in a portfolio management function. With my first employee in an 80% workload, nobody noticed that at the beginning. It also seems that the ladies are happy when they have a change of scenery and get away from home a few days a week. I have had very good experiences with employees who have children.
At UBS Asset Management you are in charge of the fixed income area and in this role you are responsible for assets under management of 270 billion Swiss Francs. How do you deal with this responsibility? Can you sleep peacefully at night?
Yes, I have a sound sleep. The only sleepless nights I had were during the financial crisis, when the financial markets went crazy and UBS was in a tense situation. In the meantime, our processes and IT systems have been improved. It is also helpful and important that I have managed portfolios myself for 20 years. So I know what it's about. I am also very well organized. I have dedicated regional heads - in America, Great Britain, Asia and Switzerland. I've been working with these colleagues for more than ten years. Our cooperation is based on clear responsibilities, experience, mutual respect and trust. We also have well-developed compliance, legal & risk teams at UBS, which ensure that independent checks & balances take place on an ongoing basis.
How do you manage such an international team?
As I said, I have regional managers as well as a Head Research and a Head Investment Specialists (both women, by the way). This is my management team. Here we discuss business activities, headcounts, IT, structures, etc. I also head the Fixed Income Investment Forum. Here the ten most experienced fixed income investment strategists discuss the general situation on the markets and determine the strategy. With this setup of regional heads and an investment committee, responsibilities are clearly defined. A well-composed team is so much more successful. In addition, mutual trust and respect are important, especially in order to accept criticism as a challenge and not as a complaint. I am happy when my people tell me, “This or that is not so good!” After all, you don't sit in a glass house and do your own thing. That's why I can sleep well, even in March and April 2020, when the markets went crazy.
How do you recover from work?
At the moment I'm mostly working from home. There is of course a great temptation to sit down at my desk at 8 a.m. and work until 7 a.m. What I now consistently do if I can: I go out for a quick walk for an hour and clear my head. That feels good! I can also relax very well at the weekend, for example I like to play golf. Then I'm outside in beautiful surroundings and concentrate on the ball for four hours – that feels good, too!
You lead a team of over 130 investment specialists. Can women be steered differently than men? Or do men have a problem when they have a female boss with you?
No, I got a management position for the first time 20 years ago. Back then there was no as good leadership training as it is now. I learned myself what works and what doesn't work. You can be fair and tough, that's not mutually exclusive. Of course, as a woman, you also have to be able to act and make unpleasant decisions. I'm not exactly sure, but I guess I'm able to convey such decisions better than a man, because I do it in a different way - more empathically. You also have to be able to empathize with the other person. I've learned that over time.
What is your employer, UBS Asset Management, doing in terms of diversity?
There's a lot there. For example, we have our graduate talent program. Our goal here is to bring in an equal proportion of female and male graduates, simply to have the pool of young professionals well filled. But it is also clear: meritocracy is paramount, as we cannot just hire women because they are women. I wouldn't sign anything else either. If I had two applicants and they were both equally well qualified, then I would take the woman. But if the man was better, I would take him. We also have a program called “Career Comeback”. The program is for specialists who want to get back into the working world after a break.
We thoroughly discuss the topic of “Diversity & Inclusion” among my peers, and we also have different project teams, depending on the topic. For example, we are discussing what we can do to make young women interested in finance. When they're at university, it's already too late. We came to the conclusion that awareness-raising work at the cantonal schools is important, i.e. shortly before the Matura or Abitur, before a decision is made as to which course to study. We have to get rid of the nightmares that produce films like “Wolf of Wall Street”. It's not like that at all anymore, and I think it wasn't quite like that even in the 80s.
What is the international situation like at UBS Asset Management?
The interesting thing is that when I come to my team's office in Hong Kong, I hardly see any men, mostly women. Or in our training program for university graduates. We have two women in Singapore and Shanghai and we have now employed them as junior portfolio managers and junior analysts, respectively. In America, unfortunately, we don't have that many women in portfolio management roles until now. What is also interesting: In the sustainability team, on the other hand, we have a lot of women.
You are also Vice President of AMAS (Asset Management Association Switzerland). What is the status of women in this association?
I am very pleased that the head of BlackRock Switzerland, Mirjam Staub-Bisang, is also on the board. So here we are two women on the board and there are also some women at the management level of the association. We are further ahead in Switzerland than in Germany, where the BVI has an all-male board.
You are on the Advisory Board of Fondsfrauen Switzerland. What does this job mean for you?
UBS und auch ich persönlich unterstützen die Fondsfrauen, weil wir wollen, dass Frauen auf die Finanzbranche und deren interessante Karrieremöglichkeiten aufmerksam werden. Wir wollen hier das Bewusstsein wecken und deutlich machen, dass Frauen auch in der Schweizer Finanzbranche wichtig sind. Frauen sollten zusammenfinden und Ideen austauschen. Ich finde es immer toll, dass bei den Anlässen der Fondsfrauen hier in Zürich rund 100 Damen zusammen kommen.
Can you give a few tips to women who are interested in a career in the asset management industry?
You should never copy the men, just stay yourself. Curiosity, willingness to go the extra mile and perseverance are important. A healthy dose of self-confidence also helps. My credo is: “work hard, work smart, and deliver!” - not just make demands, but also deliver. It doesn't always go up, it goes down in between. Younger employees in particular, whether women or men, are often used to things getting upwards, but you also have to learn to deal with setbacks to be successful.
Thank you for this great interview, Charlotte!
About Charlotte Bänninger
Charlotte Bänninger ist Global Head Fixed Income bei UBS Asset Management. In dieser Funktion verantwortet sie CHF 270 Milliarden verwaltetes Vermögen in globalen festverzinslichen Anlagen und Geldmarkt-Strategien. Sie führt ein Team von über 130 Investment Spezialisten. Sie ist zudem Vorsitzende des Fixed Income Investment Forums und Fixed Income Management Teams.
Charlotte was appointed President of UBS Asset Management Switzerland AG in 2020. In this position she chairs the Swiss executive board. She also continues to be Head of Investments, UBS Asset Management Switzerland AG. Furthermore, she is the Vice Chair of the board of the SFAMA (Swiss Association of Asset Management).
Before becoming Global Head Fixed Income, Charlotte held the position of Head Fixed Income Switzerland at UBS Asset Management from 2001 on. During this time, she was instrumental in building up the Swiss Franc bond portfolio with assets under management of over CHF 40 billion.
Charlotte began her professional career in 1987 at the former Swiss Bank Corporation (UBS) as a graduate trainee and was portfolio manager and department head until 2001.