After quintupling in size in five years, Mawer Investment Management is finding that boring does indeed make money.
The Calgary-based company has $25-billion of assets under management, up from $5-billion five years ago. About half of the jump comes from rising markets, and half from clients sending in more money for the fund to run. The company ranked ninth on the Benefits Canada list of fastest-growing pension fund managers last year. But measured by percentage growth rather than total dollars, Mawer is growing faster than any of the other firms in the top 10.
Given that there is a strong correlation between scale and profitability in the investment business, the employee-owned firm must be, well, making money.
This all from a firm that cheekily bills itself as dull in its ads, with the tagline "Be boring. Make money."
That of course, does not refer to the firm itself. It really refers to how its strategy should feel to clients, who don't want the kind of excitement that roiled markets provide, says Mawer president Michael Mezei.
"We want the journey to be boring for clients. They can spend time on other things that they want to be spending time on, and they can not worry about it."
Mawer has drawn not just assets, but also industry recognition. The company won Morningstar's analysts' choice award as "Fund Company of the Year" last year, as well as Lipper's Best Equity Funds Group award for 2013.
For a firm growing as fast as Mawer, the brand is relatively anonymous.
The firm's tagline appears when Mawer advertises, but it's not big on mass-market commercials.
There won't likely be Mawer ads running on prime time TV anytime soon. There's no sense pushing that Mawer has a special sauce that leads to bigger returns, because it doesn't, says Mr. Mezei.
"Like any profession, for the most part success is doing little things really well, and repeating them," says Mr. Mezei. "Don't dress it up as something that it is not."
Further contributing to Mawer's under-the-radar persona is the fact that the firm is located not in Toronto or Montreal, the home to most Canadian money management firms, but Calgary. And as an employee-owned firm, it does not have a stock trading on a public exchange, unlike rivals such as CI Financial Corp. and AGF Management Ltd.
Building an asset manager in Calgary hasn't been a problem, Mr. Mezei says. He himself is a transplant from Toronto, and attracting investing talent has not been an issue. The firm has drawn staff from as far away as Switzerland.
One advantage ought to be that the Calgary base keeps Mawer a bit out of the Toronto-Montreal group-think. But many clients are in the east, and that means that Mawer is increasingly putting people who deal with clients in Toronto. Mr. Mezei has come east to check up on his Toronto office and meet with a portfolio manager's group.
Now, as the firm approaches rivals such as AGF in size, Mawer is looking to raise its profile, reaching out for press coverage and taking positions on national issues.
For example, Mr. Mezei is incredulous that there is still not a uniform national standard that says people in the investment industry have to put their clients above all else (known as a fiduciary standard). Regulators are working on something they call a "best-interest standard" that would be along those lines, but nothing is finished yet on the file.
"I don't understand why anybody in the investment world who is providing some advice to a client can't commit at the individual firm level that we will do this in the best interest of clients," Mr. Mawer says.
And because this is an opinion column, I can say here that the man is right. Especially since surveys show that users of investment products already believe such a standard already exists, because it's so darned logical.
From Calgary, Mawer is now starting to look south as well as east. The company's first U.S. client sought Mawer out after finding its name on a list of solid performers, and now the firm is endeavouring to tighten ties with U.S. pension consultants – the gatekeepers who help large institutions decide which portfolio managers to hire.
The Mawer story ought to be a signal to those looking to build money managers anywhere in Canada. You don't need to blow the budget on advertising, or be located on Bay Street. Generate the returns and the money will find you. Even if you are boring.