Featured Profile: Kris Walesby
Getting active with passive
Kris Walesby didn't know a thing about ETFs when he started in the sector - now he's chief executive of the joint venture between ETF Securities and ANZ. Alex Burke reports how Walesby made his way to the top.

While managing back-office at Fuji Bank - which is now part of Mizuho Financial Group Kris Walesby came to an important realisation: he didn't like being on the receiving end of business. Instead, he wanted to create it.

The now-chief executive of ANZ ETFS moved across to Chase Manhattan to do what he describes as "support-style accountancy," and once again found himself professionally unsatisfied.

"I can't see a world where we won't see a huge uptake in ETFs. And that's for two key reasons: first, they're very low-cost. And second, they're simple."
"I absolutely hated it. It was not my natural type of work even though I ended up doing it for about eight years. I felt like the recipient of activity rather than someone building business themselves," Walesby said.

In that role Walesby worked directly with traders and sales teams, and while he says he didn't necessarily want to become one of them, "I did come to the conclusion that I wanted to get out of the back and middle-office. I wanted to develop a franchise."

The problem being that Walesby found it incredibly difficult to cross the floor. To address this, he decided to return to the UK and undertake a Masters in Investment Management at Cass Business School with a view to completely changing his career. While studying, he applied for more than 100 jobs.

"I got two interviews out of that," he laughs.

The first offer was from Barclays Global Investors, now owned by BlackRock, for a position in the iShares business. Walesby says he knew virtually nothing about iShares nor the exchange-traded products that would end up defining his career.

"It was just a role that came up internally on the university intranet. I ended up applying for it and went through the graduate recruitment process. They gave me a job in the capital markets team, which was selling exchange-traded funds to the trading community," he says.

Although Walesby describes his first iShares job as "entry-level," he says it was fast-tracked because of his work in the industry prior to studying at Cass. As it happens, both he and the ETFs he was selling were about to get a massive boost in the industry - but not exactly for the most fortuitous of reasons.

"I started at iShares in 2007, so the whole industry was about to take a huge hit less than a year later. And yes, ETFs as passive vehicles were affected by the GFC to some extent, but when markets recovered ETFs ended up being a massive beneficiary of that," he says.

"So by luck plus determined application, I managed to land myself at the top-player in the world. Europe in particular picked up ETFs in a big way, because they were taking clients away from things they didn't want anymore, like complex derivatives.

"Their compliance officers were telling them to de-risk, make sure investments are transparent, reduce costs as much as possible, and make sure they were exchange-traded so you weren't doing bilateral agreements all the time. All those factors were like manna from heaven for the ETF space. Honestly, I'd like to think it was partly to do with skill, but it was probably 90% to do with timing."

Walesby stayed with iShares for three years and made plans to move back to Australia. Before he could, though, he was headhunted by ETF Securities with an opportunity far too good to pass up: he'd finally have the chance to build up his own business. ETF Securities was looking to build out its capital markets sales functionality, and needed someone with experience to take the reins.

"It was like a 10-year career jump in one go. They didn't have a capital markets division at the time. So I forewent going back to Australia, built out a team of around five or six people, and went traipsing all around Europe covering off trading clients to make sure the products were being sold through their distribution networks and traded on the exchange in the correct way," Walesby says.

Although he'd be back in time, after four years Walesby decided to leave ETF Securities and take on a role as head of capital markets, EMEA, at Invesco.

"Invesco has a range called PowerShares - and they were the fourth-biggest provider of ETFs in the world. They wanted to reinvigorate the franchise they had in Europe, which had been dormant for some time. They saw I'd built out a division from scratch at ETF Securities, so once again it worked out well for me," he says.

Walesby loved the work but only ended up staying for 15 months, because unbeknownst to him, ETF Securities had been working on a big project behind the scenes: a 50/50 joint venture with ANZ. The business now called ANZ ETFS was ready for its debut, but its two co-heads ended up leaving sooner than anyone had expected.

"The business was left without a head," he says, "and because ETF Securities already knew me and felt I was at the right point in my career for the opportunity, they gave me my go at running the company."

After knowing little about ETFs when he took on his graduate position at iShares, Walesby is now something of a diehard exponent.

"I can't see a world where we won't see a huge uptake in ETFs. And that's for two key reasons: first, they're very low-cost. And second, they're simple: if you're a retail investor and you want access to America, you don't really have a clue about the stocks over there. You might know Google, Amazon and Apple, but you don't actually know what's good or what's happening - you also don't know the asset managers over there," he says.

"With ETFs, you kind of sidestep those problems. And let's be clear, they're not doing anything above and beyond tracking the market, but you can still use those passive instruments in active ways because you can be very specific with your indices. Like with the America example, you can track the S&P 500, the NASDAQ 100, only target high-dividend-paying stocks, and so on."

Walesby feels ANZ ETFS is in a unique position to capitalise on the growth of the ETF sector.

"It's all about marrying the considerable experience ETF Securities has with the distribution power ANZ has. ANZ wants these products on the market because they're useful to their client base, and people are becoming more and more receptive to that. Australia has traditionally been a very active country, but there's now a much bigger demand for passive vehicles. Even if stockbrokers and planners aren't using ETFs they've at least considered it and read about them, and that's a huge difference to how it was even a few years ago," Walesby says.

"I don't think active is going away by any stretch; it's just that I think we're going to head more towards the model you see in the US and Europe, where there's a much more even blend of active and passive investment strategies. ETFs are very complementary in that regard. There's a world where both sides can exist and work with each other to deliver investment outcomes, and I believe that's what Australia is going to become over time."

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