Tobias Pross has been head of EMEA at Allianz Global Investors (GI) since mid-2015 and, in that time, has witnessed a radical transformation of the company’s self-image, fund range and fortunes.
“Allianz GI embarked on a journey two years ago. We thought we really needed to change how we look at things. We gave ourselves a project: can we organically become a globally recognised market leader?”
One of Allianz GI’s issues is that it is seen differently in different countries, according to Pross.
Allianz (as opposed to Allianz Global Investors) is the largest insurance company in Europe. If you go to its website, the key words are ‘home and car insurance’. That brand has affected people’s view of the asset management arm.
“After two years of working for Allianz GI, I had to explain to my mother that I wasn’t selling insurance contracts,” says Pross.
“If you have that brand – which has a lot of value – it’s really tough to convey the message: yes, it’s a huge insurance company, but we are also excellent at asset management.”
So why not do the same as Dutch insurer Aegon did and give the fund management arm of the business (Kames Capital in their case) a different brand?
“No way,” he says. “And I’ll tell you why.” His reasoning for this is multistep, but it starts with this fact: Allianz GI’s business is pretty evenly spread across asset classes.
“Our AUM was €481bn by the end of 2016. More or less a third of that is in equities, a third in fixed income and a third in multi-
asset and alternative.”
Between those different areas, it is in the alternative space that Allianz has stood out.
Two years ago, the senior management made the bold move to reposition itself as a leading alternatives house. Pross describes the decision and implementation as a “heroic effort”.
“In two years, we have grown our alternative base from a €3bn book to a €37bn book. We’ve had huge success, especially with our infrastructure debt and equity business.”
The organic growth in assets and the building of internal teams was an important part of this. The company has followed up with some acquisitions, most notably the purchase of Sound Harbour on the distressed private debt side.