Class of 2017 Forty Under Forty

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Russell Gill Head of Pension Risk & Capital Modelling, Nationwide Building Society
(Wiltshire, UK) 34
Russell Gill
(Art by Marcellus Hall)

Built Santander UK and Nationwide Building Society’s pension risk and reporting frameworks...Passion for developing talent and future leaders.

How have you been a change agent at your organization? What have you done that you’re particularly proud of?

I joined Nationwide in 2013 to build and lead the Pension Risk/Finance function and have recently taken on an expanded role covering broader capital and modelling (including modelling the Group’s operational risk and some credit risk exposures). Throughout my career, I have always aimed to build teams that “get stuff done” (in the right way), make a difference, and “think team.” I get a lot of pleasure from building teams and capabilities to solve/simplify business problems, whilst empowering individuals to develop personally and professionally. A particular highlight was one of my direct reports securing an amazing career opportunity reporting directly to our CEO.

What is the asset class or investment that keeps you up at night, and why?

Movements in equities and long-term interest rates can be very unpredictable and are big risks to defined benefit pension funds. They expose you to a wide range of unpredictable macro risks—including economic, geopolitical, and central bank policy. That said, these risks apply to many asset classes, so it is important to develop a robust risk/reward decision framework, whilst keeping focus on your ultimate goal(s).

What methodologies have you adopted within your institution?

I built Nationwide’s first-ever Pension Risk Framework and integrated pension analysis, insight, and stress testing into the business. This ultimately helps Nationwide and the pension trustees to meet their obligations and anticipate any strategic management actions required. More recently, I’ve been leading and merging Nationwide’s pension risk and capital modelling teams to create synergies (essentially to make them “more than the sum of their parts”) and thus add further value to the business.

Where do you fall in the passive vs. active debate?

I’m at the passive end of the spectrum because the maths works against active management. On average, an index/benchmark will outperform an active manager. Another way to think about it is, over the long-term, active managers who take “brave bets” relative to the benchmark and outperform will be offset by those that underperform… Are you sure you can consistently pick the winners? However, active management of “real assets” makes a lot of sense to me.

What changes would you like to see the institutional investing community make in 10 years?

Closer alignment of interests between asset owners and asset managers.

Who is a manager you don’t currently work with whose brain you’d like to pick?

John Maynard Keynes if he was still alive… deep down I’m a wannabe economist.

Ideally, where would that meeting take place?

Fifteen in Old Street, London. A non-profit restaurant supporting a great cause (helping disadvantaged adults to build careers in hospitality). Fifteen is managed by Jamie Oliver and I grew up near Essex, not far from Jamie.

What software investment tool helps you most?

I’m quite reliant on Excel but always open to new technologies.

What would improve the relationship between you and managers?

Transparency of fees and objective evidencing of value for money.

Why did you choose your current path?

I started my career in human resources in a college and then decided to go for the rock ‘n roll lifestyle associated with becoming an actuary. Since qualifying, I have worked in financial services and enjoy the variety, solving risk/investment problems and developing people.