Karen Delvai, "Head of Asset Management, Pension Funds", is responsible for the investment of the global pension assets of BMW AG employees. She also invests the strategic liquidity reserve and is thus responsible for a total of € 25 bn. She heads a team of 22 employees worldwide. This team determines the investment strategy, selects the relevant asset managers, takes care of risk management and reporting of investments and provides regular information to the divisional management and the Board of Management. Karen is a member of the Board of Management of BMW Pension Trust e.V. (Munich), Managing Director of BMW UK Pension Services Ltd. (Hams Hall), Member of the Board of Directors of BMW (UK) Holdings Ltd. (Farnborough) and member of the Supervisory Board of BMW Austria Bank GmbH (Salzburg). Before joining BMW, she held various positions at Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Nomura.
Ms. Delvai, you do not manage an investment fund, but are responsible for the investment of the pension funds for BMW Group employees. What are the general differences?
There are big differences. We focus on the entire investment universe because our primary task is to develop the strategic allocation for company pension assets. This includes the development and implementation of the investment strategy, risk management and reporting. We have outsourced the actual asset management to numerous specialized asset managers. We virtually set the guidelines ourselves. Nor do we have an "asset benchmark" or an "absolute return benchmark" in the usual sense but are oriented to the payout profile of the obligations. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the risks arising from pension obligations for the company and to be solvent when the pension claims fall due.
What do you consider to be your best task in your job, and what is the most time-consuming for you?
The best task is certainly the constant interaction with the capital markets and capital market participants. This includes the development of complex and very long-term oriented investment strategies using many asset classes. Then there is the international component. The BMW Group maintains pension plans worldwide, including in the UK, the USA and China. Since the beginning of my professional career, I have been fascinated by the capital markets.
You have been in the financial business for a long time. Can you observe a development in terms of career opportunities for women?
It has never been easy for women to establish themselves in the financial business or in banking - it has remained that way until today. In asset management, I still rarely meet women. It is precisely against this background that I am glad that the BMW Group has anchored the issue of diversity in its strategy.
What personal qualities are important for a career as a woman in a group? Is there a difference between working in a consulting company, a bank or an industrial group?
There are indeed great cultural differences, but in the end, you have to assert yourself everywhere with a high level of commitment and competence. In an industrial group, you have to bear in mind that asset management is not part of the core business.
In your relatively young years - at the age of 32 - you were a consultant for Rauser Towers Perrin, now the pension consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. How did people on the client side react when you first introduced yourself there to conduct asset-liability studies and help optimize the portfolio structure?
There were very different reactions. But in the end, it was the know-how and customer service that counted. But there have been situations in which I have had the impression that my expertise was being scrutinized more closely than would perhaps have been the case with a male colleague.
You yourself have a university degree in economics and have taken further training courses to become a Certified EFFAS Financial Analyst (CEFA) and a Chartered Financial Analyst CFA. If you want to have a career as a woman, is it more important that you are tough or that you have an excellent education? Or both?
Competence is always important. In particular, I had the feeling at the time that my university education had not prepared me sufficiently for the topics I was confronted with. Hence the additional qualifications, which were very helpful for me. Otherwise, from my point of view it is important to be authentic and to do professionally what you enjoy doing.
Was your career planning goal-oriented from the very beginning or - at least in part - rather coincidental?
My career has been goal-oriented in the sense that capital markets have always interested me. However, the fact that I am now responsible for managing assets of over 25 billion euros could not be planned directly. I came to Investment Consulting via Corporate Finance Consulting and the desire to become more involved in portfolio management. The fact that occupational pension provision was added as a further element was initially rather coincidental. I then entered Investment Banking as a career changer. The interplay of these experiences was ultimately decisive.
How did you get the idea to take care of the administration and risk management of pension funds? Was that what you wanted to do as a schoolgirl?
My interest in pension assets and asset liability management came from my work at Towers Perrin. I was then able to work intensively on the corresponding investment products at Morgan Stanley, Lehman and Nomura.
As Head of the Pension Funds Department, you are now part of the senior management team at BMW AG in Munich. From your observation: Do women lead differently from men?
You can't make a blanket assessment of such things. My experience is that there are good and less good managers - regardless of gender.
What would you advise young women today if their goal is a career in the financial sector?
If they are fascinated by capital markets, they should definitely take this career path. We need more women in the financial industry. What is important is the willingness to deal with economic issues outside the job and to continue their education. You must also enjoy making investment decisions and taking responsibility. As a rule, a lot of money is involved.
Thank you very much for the interview!