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Interview with Managing Partner and COO of WHVP, Julia Fernandez Thumbnail

Interview with Managing Partner and COO of WHVP, Julia Fernandez

As most of you know, we are in the second generation of leadership at WHVP. We strive to be authentic in communicating with all our clients, business partners, and prospective clients. With this in mind, we want to present an inside look at who we are as a company and the individuals that make up our team. As a registered investment advisor in Switzerland and the USA working to help Americans bring true diversification to their portfolios, we want to bridge the geographical gap by letting you get to know our team members both professionally and personally. Today we will sit down with Managing Partner Julia Fernandez to learn more about her illustrious career in the Swiss financial service industry and her time at WHVP. 

Jess: Julia, we all know you as the powerhouse of WHVP. But maybe we could start our interview with you by telling us a bit about what makes you tick and how you ended up at WHVP.

Julia: At 15, I started my apprenticeship in a bank. After three years, I finished and started working in the back office at a well-known Swiss Private Bank in Zurich. During the ten years of my employment, I had the possibility to work in several different departments such as Corporate Action, Assistant to one of the Executive Board Members, IT, Private Banking, and finally, I ended at the EAM Desk, which at this time consisted of Three employees. One of our first clients was WHVP. During these years, I was allowed to get unpaid leave to travel around the world for a few months or to study a language. After working at the EAM Desk for four years, I decided to quit and went to work in two different private banks in Zurich so I could earn enough money to travel around and enjoy life for one year. During this sabbatical, I had a lot of time to think about my life, and I found I had two options: go back to the bank I worked for ten years or start with an EAM. One EAM contacted me after hearing that I was looking for a job. He made me an offer, and a few days later, I started. Two years later, I left for personal reasons and decided to go to live in Spain. I was just in a job interview when one of WHVP's Senior Partners contacted me asking if I wanted to start working with them. 2 weeks later, I was back in Zurich, and on November 2, 2002, I started my new position at WHVP.

Thank you for sharing a bit about your background. I would be curious to know what it was about WHVP that led you to switch from working in a bank to heading specifically to an asset management company?

I have always been fascinated by the stock exchange and how markets behave. Therefore I always knew that I would stay in the financial industry.

The main thing was the variety of operations you do at an EAM. At a bank, when you get up in the morning, you already know what you will have to do. There are no surprises. You just have your field of work or specialty. When you receive your tasks, you do not know what has been done before they arrived, and you are not sure what happened once you pass it on to the following department. It is quite different in a small asset management company (we were just 3 for many years) because you have to handle what comes your way, essentially from start to finish. In the morning, you might have planned to check some trades, but then you get a call from a client explaining that he wants to put something into a safe deposit box, so you just leave everything behind (for the moment), meet the client, and go to the bank to help the client with their needs. In an EAM, you have complex jobs and tasks you have to accomplish, but at the same time, you have to sort out a new coffee machine if the old one doesn't work anymore. Work feels more like real life as you must deal with big and little tasks thoroughly while maintaining good client contact and care. In asset management, you have to tend to the various clients' needs and navigate the office's daily business issues simultaneously. For me, that is much more satisfying than the mundane predictability of what I was doing at a bank.

That is quite interesting to hear as it gives some insight to the readers of what goes on in our office in the day-to-day. So, in that vein of questioning, how would you describe the company culture of WHVP to a friend from an inside perspective?

During my time at the bank, I had the pleasure of working with the former two Senior Partners at WHVP, and during these four years, I got to know them quite well. They had a professional way of working. They were always honest, meaning they told you straightforwardly what they thought, both positive and negative. That was a significant driving factor for me to start working for WHVP, as it makes for a much less stressful and more efficient working environment when everything is clearly stated. Since day one at WHVP, I have felt welcome by the clients and partners. When the Senior Partners retired after seventeen years, and Jamie and Urs took over, I didn't know what to expect, but now three years later, I am still thrilled to be a part of WHVP. Everything is still very professional and efficient, plus we have a lot of fun together. It feels like family. For example, people often struggle when returning to work after the holidays. Although I love to go on holiday, when it does end, and I have to return to work, I genuinely look forward to meeting with my colleagues to hear what happened during my absence.

We certainly have fun together in the office and always miss your presence and expertise while you are enjoying your well-deserved holidays. As you mentioned, you have worked with both the first and second generation of WHVP's leadership. As a part of Generation X, how has it been working with both the Baby Boomer Generation and now the Millennial Generation in asset management? Could you elaborate on some similarities and differences between the two? 

This is quite a tricky question to answer because the times are different. As Bob Dylan said, "the times they are a-changin" what I mean by that is that when I started working for WHVP, the regulatory landscape looked totally different, which allowed us to work much more efficiently and gave us some leeway if something was not done immediately. Today, however, with the ever-increasing regulation on the financial service industry, the pace of work and complexity of compliance and administration bogs down the working day, creating a lot more urgency in getting things done immediately so that there is less chance of backlog in moving processes and projects forward. So to answer your question directly, I have to say that both generations work efficiently, with a high level of professionalism, and excellent competency in what they did and now do. 

However, my generation and the new generation have to adapt to the chaos that is ever-increasing regulations and are left to problem-solve at a much higher rate. While the Baby Boomers certainly had to adjust to the various regulatory changes in their time, it was a convenient time for them to pass it on to those who still desired to continue to adapt and thrive in the new environment. It is less about what is different and more about the circle of life. One generation learns to form the previous, and the cycle repeats to find solutions for the day's issues.

That is a fascinating vantage point to see the financial service industry and WHVP. With the last question in mind, do you see any noticeable improvements in the financial service industry in Switzerland since you started working in it? 

Yes and No. A very positive improvement is surely the fact that younger women are given a chance to achieve something and are seizing these chances. For example, when I started my career, women were "only" secretaries/assistants, which is no longer the case. Further to this point, when I was invited to a business event, there were maybe a handful of women compared to the 50 or so men. That has definitely changed and will hopefully keep on changing. 

On the other hand, as I mentioned before, the financial industry is getting much more complicated due to all the compliance regulations that must be handled and dealt with. Naturally, this makes life in the office quite tricky because of the increase in workload for employees. That said, the evolution of technology and communication methods has made client communication much more efficient. For example, when I started working in financial services, our bank did not have the internet and worked with "Acron" style computers. Access to information for finding data for research and the ability to conduct trades over the internet has undoubtedly aided in the convenience of what we do. But even with that, the ever-increasing regulation has only made the financial service industry more cumbersome for the clients and service providers.

Thank you for sharing so much about yourself, the financial service industry of Switzerland, and WHVP. To wrap up the interview, I would like to ask some more personal questions. For the first one, who are your heroes?

As a child, I always wanted to be like Mother Theresa. She gave everything to help children in Calcutta. She was my personal hero. She was the reason for my working in Mexico with orphans living in the street. For me, it is very important to be myself, never lie, and be a good human. What I can say about myself is that I am a good-humored person who always sees the bright side of life, even if the shit hits the fan.

To finish our interview, I would like to end with a silly question: What would you do if you won the lottery?

That's a good one. I would buy a Fiat 500 convertible just for me. I would, of course, donate to some organization, give some away to my family and friends, and go on a shopping trip with my girls. I really enjoy investing, so I would take a small portion to invest in riskier instruments and a larger portion to invest in a balanced portfolio.

Julia, thank you for speaking with us and sharing your experiences and thoughts on the Swiss financial service industry and WHVP. It was truly a pleasure.

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