As chief investment officer of Harwood Multi-Manager, Richard Philbin is responsible for everything from building investment models to interviewing asset managers. He is also responsible for bringing FE’s finXL and FE Analytics tools into the company, where he has been described by FE as a finXL ‘super user’. Providing the direct link into Excel needed to manipulate and manage huge amounts of data efficiently and flexibly, finXL is “absolutely integral to everything we do” according to Richard, who firmly believes the flexibility of the system is limited “only by your experience of Excel”.
Harwood Multi-Manager is part of Harwood capital, whose business lines include private equity, property and listed equities for institutional and private clients.
As multi-manager investors, Harwood use their expertise and skills to choose which fund managers are likely to perform well, blending those funds together to create a managed portfolio. With more than 20 years in the business, Richard is one of the UK’s best-known multi-manager investors, previously ‘AA’ rated by OBSR, Citywire and S&P. He describes his role at Harwood as being “part of a very small business but with a big reach.”
Richard has always been aware of the importance of using the latest technology to support the multi-manager’s business - whose role in simplest terms is ‘to separate the wheat from the chaff’ among fund managers. Human expertise and skills are obviously important elements in this process, but with more than 100,000 mutual funds available globally, technology also plays a vital role in screening the initial pool to identify the best-performing funds. “To conduct individual meetings with every fund manager would just not be feasible,” says Richard. Indeed, as Harwood point out, “it would take more than 50 years to complete”.
This is why in an earlier life Richard developed a sophisticated tool to carry out the initial screening and identify skilful fund managers in a consistent and repeatable way. This was known in the IFA market place as “Traffic Light Analysis”, which was widely acknowledged and essentially did the work of an army of analysts.
For asset data and analytical and reporting functionality, Richard had used various tools in his previous companies, including Lipper and Morningstar. When he arrived at Harwood, however, it was to a “blank canvas”, so he decided to review the market again to see what was available.
He selected FE, along with the finXL and FE Analytics tools. FE provides comprehensive asset data that is extracted via finXL into the universally familiar Excel spreadsheet environment. Here, it can be manipulated, readily integrated with in-house data, analysed, interrogated and used to populate pre-ordained reporting formats.
Richard made this selection for two main reasons. Firstly, FE delivered on a ‘data-in-a-cloud’ basis, which had the huge advantage of allowing access anywhere, at any time, from any device; and secondly, the direct link into Excel offered by finXL opened up significant functionality and almost limitless flexibility as to what he could do. “It met a huge number of the objectives I wanted to achieve,” he says.
He uses finXL both for portfolio attribution and construction, testing its flexibility to the limits; and FE Analytics, coupled with finXL, brings a powerful combination of comprehensive asset data and analytical functionality, together with the ability to manipulate data in a way he is comfortable with. Richard has made superb use of the FE products he has brought into Harwood and they are fundamental to the business: “finXL is absolutely integral to everything we do,” he says.
He believes that the flexibility of finXL is limited “only by your own experience of Excel”. And he appreciates the fact that FE allows users to exploit this flexibility to the maximum. “This is incredibly important. While other suppliers let us see their data, they don’t allow us to export it. I think of FE as ‘android’ in its openness and other suppliers as closed, like ‘iOS’; I really appreciate the open architecture.”
In providing a much greater oversight of funds, sectors and industries, finXL allows Harwood to react more quickly to changes and opportunities, so providing a competitive advantage.
Sophisticated sales tool for IFAs and their clients finXL allows Richard to produce a wealth of sales aids – by specific sector, and showing relevant performance statistics and volatilities to “prove and justify” the funds they have selected for inclusion in their portfolios, using quantitative and qualitative analysis, plus portfolio modelling.
One of Harwood’s mains goals is to be a favoured practitioner to IFAs. The work Richard has done with finXL and FE Analytics is moving them closer to this goal, enabling him to support IFAs by building and managing portfolio models that they can use to demonstrate the
value of propositions to their own clients.
In taking on these two FE tools, Richard is also enabling huge efficiency gains. In his previous company, he had a team of 16 front-office analysts to construct the charts and reports he needed. Now, he does it all himself, using finXL. “I have built dozens of templates, some updated weekly - some monthly, some with over 1,000 data points which help in the slicing and dicing of data to get the charts and outcomes I’m looking for.”
Excellent support from FE in a mutually beneficial relationship
In a service industry, people are very important and with FE, Richard feels he is treated as a valued customer. He has been impressed by the quality of FE’s service – “excellent”, and support team - in particular account manager Jodie Lord, who has been “brilliant”. And he is constantly pushing the FE relationship further in a mutually beneficial exchange in which FE gets input from a highly proficient user as to how to extend the product into new and exciting areas, while Richard benefits from an ever-more powerful tool to support his business.
“It’s very much a two-way street; working together to make the product a better offering – which ultimately strengthens our relationship professionally and personally.”
Richard is also very keen to share and swap ideas with other finXL users.
Reliable and scalable moving forward
Richard recognises that finXL will scale to grow with the business: “FinXL is absolutely perfect for the stage of business we are at now; when we grow, we’ll have to ‘industrialise’ the scale. FE is more than capable of doing this.”
Not every finXL user can be a super user - nor do they need to be. finXL adds value in businesses where requirements are much less demanding than Harwood’s. That said, the way Richard has extracted every ounce of flexibility and functionality he needs from the product to drive his business - and the scale on which he has achieved this, is truly impressive. He has been using finXL and FE Analytics daily for over a year and a half now, but admits to “still learning” - aware that there is “still stuff I haven’t had a chance to play with yet!” So, while the finXL journey at Harwood is by no means complete, as Richard continues to push the boundaries of the tool, he is satisfied with what has been achieved to date. “I know I’ve automated as best I can to better serve our users and our clients,” he concludes.