Transcriptie: Anneka Treon
This is Leaders in Finance: a podcast in which we look for the person behind the success. We’re talking to leaders from the present and the future about what drives them, both in their careers and at home. Why? Because in the financial sector, we should be more open. First, a great thank you from us to our partners in this podcast for their support. They are: Interim Valley, FG Lawyers, Odgers Berndtson executive search and Roland Berger.
Our guest in this episode is Anneka Treon, she helped Van Lanschot Kempen gain a more international clientele. How? By being honest, she says. “What I found quite helpful was to actually be really upfront about the elephant in the room and we really dubbed ourselves as ‘we are industry outsiders’.” She talks about her childhood as a real-life queen’s gambit, playing chess every weekend and winning. She says “I was a bit of a nerd. Well, there’s not that much space for having a life on a Friday night if you need to be sharp and ready at 9 AM sitting at a chess board. And I had the big glasses, so I fitted the scene quite well.” At the age of 16, she started as an intern in the financial world and later, she moved to Holland. “You are less in a rat race, you are less on autopilot, you’ve got time to think. I was shocked, I saw people riding their bikes with a smile on their face. I’ve never seen somebody ride a bike with a smile on their face in London, right?” What’s the course she is steering now in the Dutch banking world? Let’s talk to Anneka Treon, your host is Jeroen Broekema.
Jeroen: Welcome at a new episode of Leaders in Finance. I am excited to welcome my guest here in Amsterdam. My guest is Anneka Treon, Managing Director at Van Lanschot Kempen’s Competence Center. Welcome to the show, Anneka!
Anneka: Thanks, Jeroen!
Jeroen: Great you’re taking the time and I may also say goedemorgen to you!
Jeroen: I’m aware you’re actually pretty good in Dutch, but we will have this interview in English to be sure.
Anneka: Great, thanks.
Jeroen: It’s wonderful. Anneka is head of the Competence Center at Van Lanschot Kempen where she has been working for the last 13 years. Anneka has an unconventional background. She was born and raised in London where she was an avid chess player – titled UK champion for three years running – and also involved in other mind sports like Mindmapping where she received an international bronze award. She grew a passion for finance at a young age and her first experience of banking was at the age of 16 at Morgan Stanley’s investment banking unit. After that she gained experience at various financial services firms; like Citi, KPMG, Rothschild and eventually Goldman Sachs. She moved over to the Netherlands 13 years ago for family reasons where she came across Van Lanschot Kempen, starting first at the capital markets side of the business. She recently took on a new position as head of the Competence Center – which lies at the intersection of wealth and financial services for both private and institutional clients. Anneka has been featured at many media outlets, like Bloomberg, CNBC and the Financial Times where she explains and reviews financial markets and other financial news and trends. Anneka is 34 years old, she is living in Amsterdam with her husband and three kids. That gives us a little bit of an introduction about who you are and what you do. Maybe it’s great if you could start with telling us more about your job, about the Competence Center and maybe even about Van Lanschot Kempen a bit broader?
Anneka: Sure! Thanks for the very kind intro. Well, Van Lanschot Kempen is a name which I think is very well known and very well understood. It’s the oldest independent financial institution in the Netherlands, approximately 100 billion euros on the management and what the Competence Center is all about I think is a good signal in terms of the direction the firm is going and the Competence Center is about the meeting of the institutional side and the non-institutional side of the business. I think what we as a firm are very excited about is the benefits that the non-institutional side of the business can really tangibly see in terms of how we are going about the wealth management of their portfolios, especially bringing the lessons learned from the institutional side of the business and the access that we have and the knowledge that we have, which comes from having 100 billion of assets under management, that gives you a pretty serious position in the marketplace to be privileged with information and intelligence. The other way around is also relevant, because of course having had such a longstanding background and awareness of the true mindset around private banking and wealth management, I think it really helps you to understand individuals, drivers, needs, how to really achieve the goals of individual people. And I think that also equally applies on the institutional side, because I believe that incentives around institutional asset management are also changing. The world is changing very very rapidly and if you understand the individual, I think you can really start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. And that’s what the Competence Center is really about.
Jeroen: How many people work there?
Anneka: It’s about 35 of us in total.
Jeroen: What kinds of backgrounds do these people have and what are they doing exactly?
Anneka: It’s really good fun, because it’s something which we kicked off already last year. We pulled out people that were operating in all sorts of parts of the organisation from Lanschot Kempen, both from the institutional side as well as the non-institutional side or the semi-institutional side of the business in all sorts of facets of the business. We were looking for the common denominator as to: what sorts of areas are these individuals, these colleagues involved in that could be truly relevant across all client groups? Whether it’s about the storytelling, the content that we are delivering to our clients, whether it’s about the marketing, again around the storytelling. Whether it’s about structuring the proposals for our clients, it’s quite an array; it’s extremely divers and it’s a huge amount of energy because we’re all so passionate about the upside and the benefits that can be achieved by thinking even more holistically. A lot of firms, the UBSs of this world have worked on this one-bank-strategy. And I think what makes us actually very special is that we are still a rather nimble-sized organisation. We don’t have 10,000 people, so I think to really enjoy the fruits of one holistic firm, one integrated wealth manager which we’ve already started with, of course, is maybe more straight-forward than if you are in a very large organisation. So it’s really really good fun and a really good group.
Jeroen: And you’ve had various positions at Van Lanschot. You’ve been there for around 13 years as I mentioned in the introduction. What were the jobs you most enjoyed?
Anneka: As you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve spent the majority of my time at the capital market side of the business and then very much around the equities, the listed equities. And in that area there were of course different facets, so on one hand I’ve been running equity research teams, on the other hand more on the distribution side. But I guess what I’ve enjoyed the most – and I think that’s the common thread across all the positions that I’ve had – is that it’s been a really amazingly educative journey because it’s all about articulating and really truly understanding what are we really bringing to the table as an organisation from at that point, a capital market perspective and now of course across the whole group. And the reason I say that is because of my background. As you’ve mentioned, I’ve come from London, I’ve come from the larger bulge bracket institutions where I often experienced that clients wanted to be clients of your firm for various reasons. And I think if you operate in a slightly more boutique-environment where you are also engaging with the international market, which is extremely competitive, you are very much forced to identify upfront: What are you bringing you the table? How are you truly adding value to this client that you are sitting opposite with? And really thinking about it in a very strict way prior to your conversations because you’re not in a situation where that client has to do business with you because of all the hundreds of different silos departments which the client is involved with. And that’s what I’ve truly enjoyed because it forces a lot of discipline, it forces a very honest look at yourself, a very objective look at yourself and it also encourages an experimentative approach to really explore different areas of the marketplace, look at the business model of how you as a firm can be adding value, how clients can enjoy that. So it’s almost been a sort of a business school in itself across various facets.
Jeroen: Personally, what was the job where you really said “That’s where I’ve massively learned in a very very short amount of time”?
Anneka: It was definitely when – and this is going quite far back when I joined – I took the role of “Let’s establish an international…” Because a long time ago, it’s gone quite fast but we were much more domestic on the capital market side, we were a much more domestic-orientated organisation. And I was really excited about internationalising it for various reasons. And it was a huge awakening moment when I would turn up in different cities around Scandinavia but especially in London and I would turn up and say “This is who we are. This is our story, this is what we can offer.” It was shocking. As I said the bulge bracket environment is holding up a business card with a logo everybody recognizes, it was a very different ballgame to “Here’s a logo which you might not have even heard of or recognize, but hey, it’s still worth your time. Hear me out, hear us out.” And it was a huge eyeopener and I loved it because you really felt the sense of urgency of “What is my story? What am I bringing to the table?” in preparing for these things because you already know upfront “If I don’t have one, I’m useless and I’m of zero value and I’ll never be invited again.” And I don’t really want to be operating in an environment where I’m not really adding value. So I absolutely loved it because it’s so exciting to get the signals from the international clients as we internationalize that say “This is really something. You guys are really onto something. This can add value. Let’s meet up every two months and talk through and discuss and see what we can do together.” So I loved that.
Jeroen: Do you have particular tricks for people that are in this underdog position?
Anneka: It’s funny and also how you refer to it. At one point, it really hit me, especially in the beginning, if you are sitting in a financial harbour, you’re sitting in a bulge bracket firm name, a lot of the branding has been done in terms of perception, people know you etc. If you are somewhat newer, and of course the firm has really progressed since then, what I found quite helpful was to actually be really upfront about the elephant in the room. We really dubbed ourselves as “We are industry-outsiders.” And in a highly competitive world, if an institutional investor is truly looking to generate returns that are more substantial than what can be generated through passive investment, robots, i.e., to really justify their existence for what they are doing and why they are doing it, then you have returns. And our pitch was “Well, this is what we tried and it worked. We are the industry outsider which means by definition that does carry with it the optionality of providing something different and in your role, you need to do something different in order to outperform all the various algorithm-types of investing. There could be a match here, so hear us out. So if you’ve not heard of us, it’s fantastic, because that provides the optionality. So let’s explore the optionality together, this is how we look at it, what do you think?” And we really used it in our pitches and it worked really really well. Obviously, we’ve had to refine but I think we truly were able to carve a position for ourselves in the marketplace.
Jeroen: You’re a very curious person I think, given all the topics you talk about in the media. What are the topics you are really interested in today?
Anneka: I think it coincides really well with my new role, but I’ve grown a sort of fascination or passion about simplifying the concepts of the financial industry and the wealth management/asset management industry. Because it’s something which I actually already sort of felt and noticed as a child and I think the sort of upbringing that I’ve had, I was very much born and raised in London. I was obsessed with the concept of financial markets at a young age because it fascinated me, I was analytical and I already noticed at a young age that it was such an incredibly siloed industry. People were operating in shoeboxes where they became the super specialist and 20 years later they were still doing that. And of course, I was very analytical and fascinated by that. And of course I was fascinated by the jargon and got the hang of it quite quickly. But it almost felt that in some cases jargon is put in place for the sake of it. And it almost felt that since the financial crisis especially, I think there have been certain humbling moments where people operating in the industry ought to look in the mirror and think about “What are we actually here to achieve?” And talking about sustainability and all the very big themes right now, one area I’m personally really fascinated about is: What is the point of the entire asset management industry and all the various iterations you have with different fund types, structures, asset classes, etc.? Where did the money that is lying in this industry actually come from? 8-9 times out of 10, it came from an individual, a person. And that person had a goal and that goal was to achieve a certain financial return with a certain risk criterion, according to cashflow needs they might have today or in the future. And if you really follow and you think very simplistically and you follow the trail of starting with that person and their goal all the way down to how that trickles in through financial intermediaries, advisories, all sorts of fees (which is a different topic), all the way down into different versions of money market funds, high yield funds, this/that’s, it begs the question if you go all the way down the rabbit hole, if you’d like “Are we still operating in a way that suited the needs of that person right up front?” And if you are truly operating in a siloed way, look at what’s happening with massive areas of interest, be it Private Equity or whatever. If an asset allocator or portfolio manager or an advisor was truly thinking about the ultimate need of the client, how should they make decisions? And I think it’s interesting that a lot of the industry is built upon the same textbook theory of “Well, asset allocation usually has this much in equities, this much in fixed income, this much here.” But the world is changing and things are moving quickly and it can’t be that everyone has similar needs. So it really fascinates me and that’s why I’m so passionate about the bridge between the institutional side and the non-institutional side because how can you not consider that bridge if you’re on the institutional side? Because that’s where the money came from in the first place, that’s what’s fuelling the entire system and all the fees, etc. So that’s something I’m always keen to understand more and zoom into.
Jeroen: One of the things I wanted to ask about the asset management world and the enormous amount of money that’s in there, there’s this debate going on between people that say they can actually make a huge difference by channeling those funds, this enormous amount of money into areas that will actually lead to a more sustainable world, for example, or a more equal world or any other good intention. Where are you on this debate with the people on the other side saying “Well, actually it doesn’t really matter”?
Anneka: Then you are talking about the way in which capital is deployed and invested and how that benefits the world and sustainability?
Jeroen: Actually, does it matter that we all start to invest with our pension funds and all other asset managers into more sustainable businesses and to invest into other funds that have all these more green specifics, for example?
Anneka: It’s a great question and I think it’s such a complex topic because there are so many facets to the topic of sustainability. And I think we as a firm and as a house are really developing ourselves even further on this path. Colleagues of mine are really deep-diving into it of course. But I guess some of the facets that we are very very much busy with, on one hand it’s indeed investing specifically into targeted businesses that fulfil a certain criterion which deems them sustainable. Or the STGs that deems them really relevant according to some of those metrics. But on the other hand, the other way of looking at it which is perhaps even more interesting, because that supplies to the entire holistic approach to investing which is a true sense of active ownership. When you are allocating or deploying a euro or a dollar of capital into the investment ocean that we have today, what are you buying? What are you owning? Literally as simple as that, what are you owning? What are the underlying assets that are substantiating the capital that you are deploying? Because in any shape or form, no matter what sort of financial instrument you are involved in or asset class, there is always some kind of underlying investment case. Even if it’s a currency play, there is a government, there is geopolitics. And I think it’s truly remarkable – and this goes back to what I mentioned earlier – that the industry of investing money has gotten so far ahead of itself that we sometimes forget “What is this all about and what’s the point? What was the original money holder looking to achieve?” And I think the same thing applies here. Isn’t it a bizarre concept that billions, trillions of capitals can be deployed and we forgot to ask “Wait a minute, what are we actually owning? What are we actually involved in?” The classic example is active investing versus passive investing. But it’s not as simple as that, there are so many different ways, methods, approaches that one can adopt to really consider “What are we being involved in?” Of course, active is a very big part of that but that’s the new level of sustainability that the world is getting into and I think, to answer your question, absolutely yes, it makes a huge difference if you consider these factors in terms of the impact that you’re making for these vast sums of capital that we’re talking about.
Jeroen: There are so many avenues we could go into and I do want to ask one last question on that content and move to you. But I’m really interested in these ETFs and all these funds that are set up and they’re actually moving money without direct involvement of people. Obviously, there is always some involvement. You’ve written quite a lot about it, you’ve talked about it a lot. Are you concerned, could you maybe map the potential dangers of these enormous funds that are moving money around without direct human involvement?
Anneka: I could talk for hours about this because I think it’s fascinating. There are different layers of risks. From a risk management perspective, the obvious one is the paradox of liquidity. Because these sorts of investment vehicles are extremely liquid but often the underlying isn’t. And that’s absolutely fine when things are going well but there’s the analogy that if things are not going well, there’s a fire in a restaurant and you have 100 people that are running through a tiny fire escape door, that’s when suddenly liquidity matters and that’s exactly why when things go in a perverse direction, it can get ugly. But besides the liquidity factor, I think the biggest risk of it – maybe to answer your question slightly differently – the backdrop that we’ve gotten used to. And I’m a firm believer that when things occur for a prolonged period of time, let’s say more than 3-4 years, they change your sense of normalcy. They change your sense of “This is normal, this is how things are done.” And “We’ve always done it this way”, bla-bla-bla, the usual. Now, if you think about – and actually, I mentioned earlier that there’s something that I’ve written for Bloomberg coming out later today – the backdrop of the world that we faced and how that fits into the context of your question, at least over the last decade central banks, monetary policy has run the show. And quite simply in one sentence: Central bankers have proven not only their ability but their willingness to underwrite financial markets. Covid was the best example of all. We all know what happened. Now, if that’s your backdrop, you can feel – especially, you’ve learned to feel, let’s put it that way – pretty comfortable with the notion of just following the markets. Because the most powerful policy makers on this planet literally are almost in unison willing and able to say “We’ve got your back”, that’s what the fed put means. “We’ve got your back, we’ll underwrite things.” So then just follow the markets, be a follower and what is a very efficient nimble simplistic way to follow is basically going passive, buy an ETF. Now, if that environment is to change and if that president is to subside and you see slow early signals of that, we should be not naïve about drawing conclusions too soon but it’s fascinating that the largest central bank in the world, the most powerful one, the fed, has just gone out, they stood up and said “We are no longer going to take the driving seat.” That’s essentially what he is saying. They’re saying that we used to make monetary policy decisions based on expectations, based on forecasted data, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re waiting for the actual data to be reported, which of course comes with a time lag, and then we will respond. That’s a massive change in approach. The ECB is going through a strategic review. It’s no joke, right? So that suddenly leaves the person that was buying all these ETFs just by the market is a fed put, they have your back, let’s just follow them because they’re the leaders. If they themselves are saying “Well, we’re following what’s happening in the economy and by the way, there is a time lag with the data”, then who’s the leader? So I think it’s fascinating potential role shift between market participants, central bankers, because they’ve really been running the show and then the ETF, your point very specifically about ETFs and passive investing, I think it forces people to think harder. Because if the leader is less of an outspoken leader, how can you be such an outspoken follower?
Jeroen: Well put, that’s very interesting! You said earlier – and I mentioned it in the introduction as well – that from a very early age you were interested in finance. How come?
Anneka: I think the complexity of it all fascinated me. Because hearing all this jargon and the analytical mind of mine thought “Let’s try and understand that.” And I think it’s the combination of the complexity with the massive importance of the financial system almost in everything. It’s just the classic example of when central banks make interest rate decisions, how the multiplier effect ripples into every single facet of the economy and therefore people’s lives. And that fascinated me because every individual has cashflow that needs to be managed, whether it’s in a sophisticated way or a less sophisticated way. So it fascinated me. And as you alluded to, I’ve always been really fascinated by analysis, whether it was chess or mindmapping or just understanding the mind.
Jeroen: We’re also going to talk about that, I’m very curious. But was there a particular moment or were your parents into financial services or did you read about it in the newspaper? I’m just suggesting a couple of things. But there must have been something where you really got this fascination for financial services?
Anneka: My father was in the industry, he was in the accounting business, he set up a very successful business of his own. So he was very much an entrepreneur but he’s extremely literate in finance and that was definitely a factor. My mother too was very much into the education, they gave me very strong foundation that I think was a big part. Next to that, I was always extremely impressed by – I wouldn’t say peers because they’re obviously older – but extremely impressed by people that I came across that were working in financial services, hearing them speak, understanding how they articulate themselves, that argumentation. And I thought “Wow, this sort of calibre of people is great, I’d love to be part of that and understand what this whole thing is all about.” It were probably those two things.
Jeroen: Did you talk about this with friends? Because I guess a lot of people want to do very different jobs at that age or maybe even younger, they want to do different jobs. Did you talk about this ambition with friends? If yes, what did they think about it?
Anneka: I guess a lot of them thought I was a bit nuts because I was always a little bit nuts. At the time, I didn’t really notice it, but if I think back to it, I also have children of my own now so I remember things a little bit more. But it was a very unusual setup, basically almost every weekend, all Saturday I was playing a chess tournament. One out of three Sundays, I was also playing a chess tournament. Well, there’s not that much space for having a life on a Friday night if you need to be sharp and ready at 9 AM sitting at a chess board. So it was unusual and they would always make jokes and I was a little bit nerdy and I had the big glasses so I fitted the scene quite well. But they always thought it was a little bit odd and a little bit funny but I guess the UK education system is also quite competitive, which meant that if you were in certain schools that were even more into that track and that mindset, it was more normal to be very clear about what it is that you want to achieve or at least clear about what experiments you want to try out, to figure out what you want to achieve and just try them out, whether it’s internships or whatever. So that also plays a role. But people definitely thought I was a bit nuts and they made a lot of jokes and I laughed along and it was fine.
Jeroen: Are you willing to share a bit more about how you grew up?
Anneka: Yeah, absolutely. As I said, I was really the quintessentially nerd, if I think back at it. Again, I didn’t really notice at the time, I was probably too close to it. But indeed, the big glasses, and I would assume – I don’t wear glasses anymore – a better lens technology to at least make sure that the lenses were a little bit thinner. But in those days I didn’t, so the lenses were huge so your eyeballs were magnified. So really the quintessentially nerd and at school during assembles, it would be “We would like Anneka to come to the stage, here’s a trophy that she’s won.” And everyone’s probably rolling their eyeballs but I didn’t even notice. So I was very much into academia, my parents really brought me up in that sense, especially my mother because she was really motivated by “Let’s make sure that our kids really have the best start from an academic perspective to keep the world open to them.” And it was extremely important at home. So it was very normal that academics were the most important thing and fun would come once you’d done that and you can celebrate the success. So that was a very big part of my upbringing. I think some of the hobbies that I grew into, whether it was the chess stuff or other areas, that was probably more self-driven because it was very much “What are you interested in?” I mean, they tried everything under the sun with me, from playing flute to violin to tapdancing to ballet. So I was shown a portfolio of “This is the stuff you can do, figure out what you like” and it certainly wasn’t tap, ballet, violin or flute, so I found areas that interested me the most. And I guess I just had a great time growing up, I had a lot of fun. I didn’t grow up in the centre of London, I grew up slightly north, so slightly in the suburbs, a little bit protected from the city and all sorts of things that are happening there. As I said, my schooling was quite competitive, it was one of the better girl schools in the country because the UK system again is quite ranked. So that also got me into a peer group where you want to do well academically because everyone around you is. At one point it was less about what my parents encouraged and more about what I wanted, which came quite early on because of the environment. And I just had a lot of fun.
Jeroen: Did you see your parents always working? Was your mother working as well? Because you spoke about your dad being an entrepreneurial figure.
Anneka: Yes, so my father was working 24/7, it was insane. It was a huge motivating factor for me to just see this man constantly working his ass off and seeing fruits that came on the back of that and that was very inspiring. My mother did the very noble thing of putting her career on the side to really bring the children up and bring them to a certain level. She was extremely hands-on, so it was very much that whatever you did you needed to make sure especially your mom was proud because you wanted to deliver something. That was the environment that I grew up in and I found it quite inspiring myself.
Jeroen: Would you say you’re raising your kids very differently from how your parents raised you?
Anneka: It’s funny you mention it, because my husband and I always have this thing back and forth and it’s “You never know if you’re doing it right” and you never are, that’s for sure. Because you always get reminded of things you’re doing wrong. But what I find interesting is especially on the education front, the UK system is completely different to the Dutch system. And I think the entire mindset around it is completely different. On one hand, I love the fact that the UK system plugs in the sense of urgency and competitiveness in a good way, that you want to make something out of yourself, that means you got to put efforts in now and life is not only having fun, etc. On the other hand, it goes far too extreme to the extent that now even four-year-olds are being tutored for interview preps to enter the right school at the right age. It’s complete nonsense. And I guess that’s something which I grapple with a little bit, what’s the right scene setting also for this day and age? Because the world has changed, the job market has changed, everything has changed. So I guess there are definitely things in common but at the same time I don’t want to put too much pressure on the children. I hate to call it trial and error because it doesn’t sound fair but it sort of is. You sort of see what’s working and what’s not, trying to pick up the signals quickly. We’re very young parents so that helps, I think you can catch onto things a bit earlier. Because you remember being in those shoes yourself.
Jeroen: Obviously we have already touched the topic of chess and mindmapping afterwards. I do play chess myself a little bit. I’m sure I would lose in probably two or three minutes playing with you. But where did that come from? Was that your own idea or was it your parents’ idea? How did you become such a competitive and extremely successful chess player?
Anneka: It’s actually a funny story, because my parents were also quite social so they would be out and our babysitter would be at home. We had this video closet, which sounds like centuries ago because who would watch a video? I never really watched cartoons or that sort of thing and I think my mother was very particular about what videos would be there for what sort of influence. And there was one about how to play chess so I thought “I’m really bored, I watched the other ones, they’re so boring. Let’s watch this.” I was just really intrigued and then I set up a chess club at school and I spoke to the teacher saying “Why don’t we set something up? It could be interesting.” We brought in a teacher and it just bloomed from there. Why I absolutely loved the game more than the game itself, it was this combination of being extremely analytical and thinking ahead and being strategic but at the same time understanding and acknowledging the person sitting across the board. And it was especially the person sitting across the board married with the analytical stuff that I just loved. Because when I would enter one of these competitions and I would see the person sitting opposite me, you can read the personality in five seconds and I’m very aware of energies and it’s something I’m very much into. And it’s really fascinating because it already gives you clues on should you play offensive/defensive, should you sacrifice a pawn to throw them off to confuse them? I think this whole NLP, neurolinguistic programming, whatever you call it, that’s the bit that I loved about chess. Being able to be analytical, because you’re playing with a person, an individual, a human and what are their drivers? What clues are they letting out? And at one point I decided to essentially stop, also because it was a direction that other than only Saturday and Sunday, it was also Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday with chess coaches, etc. So I thought “It’s a big decision to be made.” And then I also noticed that all the peers of mine, it was all about memorizing. So you had memorized many openings and then six different iterations of that same opening. And I thought at one point “This is taking the whole fun out of it. This is not playing the person opposite you now, this is remembering if they react with a certain opening, you react a certain way and you’re ten steps down a sequence but then you’re on another reiteration. That’s not fun.” That was the moment where I thought “I’m ready to move on from this.”
Jeroen: When did you figure out that you were actually really good at it?
Anneka: It started at school, the way that everybody experiences these things and eventually it became quite a big thing in the school, then we played other schools and then you play your county, your local area and then at one point before you know it, you’re in the national championships. And then when you start winning national championships and you see your trophy, you think “Wow! I didn’t expect that.” It just sort of grew, there was no plan upfront that “This is where I want to go and this is what’s going to happen”, it just was organic, I would say.
Jeroen: Did you play to one of the really famous chess players in the world? The Anand’s of this world?
Anneka: I always played in a women’s category and at that point, now that I think about it also with Queen’s Gambit and all that, things have really changed which is fantastic. But I stopped at the level where I was playing on a national level, competing against other women in the UK. And I think the moment where I thought “This could go international”, in which case you need to take it to the next level and really commit and it was all the memorizing of openings and this and that and I thought “I think this is the moment where I’m going to focus on other areas.” Especially because at that moment I’d really started familiarizing myself more with what was going on within financial markets and I also stumbles upon mindmapping which was a total mistake and I realized it’s not necessarily chess that I’m so into, it’s the attributes around it and there are other avenues that you can explore going forward.
Jeroen: Do you still use ideas or thoughts or strategies you had with chess or mindmapping in your current work somehow? Does it still cross your mind?
Anneka: Definitely. It’s nothing that I do on purpose or explicit but attributes 100%. That’s actually what I rely on the most. How do you structure information when you are investigating a new business plan or a new concept? What are the perimeters, how do all the pieces of information come together? How can you validate that? How can you be smart about actioning ideas? It’s all the same thing, right? It’s just dealing with people instead of with wooden or plastic pieces on a chessboard. So definitely. But very much with a human element of it, which is why I ended up moving in a direction that I did.
Jeroen: It’s fascinating to hear that you also loved the psychological part of it, the person on the other side of the table. And ultimately, you also probably lost a couple of games.
Anneka: Yeah, of course.
Jeroen: How did you deal with that and how do you deal with stuff that doesn’t work in your career?
Anneka: It’s a great one and I must say I really struggled with it in the beginning because I was really a quintessentially perfectionist Virgo. I’m not sure if I believe in star signs, but they say Virgos are a perfectionist and I am one. And I’ve always been very tough on myself and had a very high hurdle that if you do something you do it well otherwise there’s no point doing it. That makes it very hard to fail, because when you fail you think “Well, I just said that if I do something, I better do it properly otherwise don’t. So why did I do it?” And I should’ve spent those hours on something else. So I really struggled with it and the funny thing is, I think you grow up, you become more mature and you think “What a ridiculous philosophy in life, it’s not as simple as that.” Especially with failures, it’s really powerful to realize that life isn’t an algorithm. It’s just real life and things go wrong and you try and you fail and you do it again. So it was really really good to learn that and I think growing up, especially after having children, it was such an eyeopener because of course children are not an algorithm. They grow, they do things, they make decisions according to what they think is right or smart. It’s very humbling to realize that you are playing it by ear in a lot of what you’re doing.
Jeroen: At some point, you went to university, you studied economics. Why did you choose that?
Anneka: At school, the one thing that I just loved, absolutely loved was economics. I just adored it, the concept. And actually, of everything I’ve studied, I did economics at the London School of Economics, that should be the centre. The bit of economics that I enjoyed was high school economics, because like I mentioned earlier, it was not about the jargon, it was about the basic principles of supply and demand and that’s what sets pricing, instead of going into all sorts of Marx’s theory of this and that. And that’s why I loved it so it was just blindingly obvious to me that this is the area that I want to zoom in on and also, given that I was interested in financial markets, it felt natural to go down that route essentially.
Jeroen: And then you started to do internships at banks, you start to learn a lot of things. What was the plan at that point before coming to the Netherlands?
Anneka: It’s funny you say plan, because I guess I did have a plan. And again, another humbling experience is that you can have plans, but life takes you where it takes you. I actually had a plan at quite a young age that I want to get to know as many of the shoeboxes as possible of this industry. Because I love the industry and I expect that I’m going to be in it, so let me already figure out which box suits me the best because there is a high likelihood I’m going to be stuck in this box for quite a while. And that’s why I thought “Let’s do this as early on as I can because I really want to enjoy what I’m doing.” As you mentioned, it literally started at 16 and I thought “I hear a lot about investment banking, I want to see what it’s all about and I would love to do it at a bigger bank because I can imagine there would be talent there, etc.” I remember I spoke to these companies and they thought it was completely ludicrous to have a 16-year-old but I used the fact that I had the chess and the mindmapping that I’m not just going to be some city gal in the corner. I do think there’s a chance that I can add value in some shape or form, let me just sit in the corner and draw mindmaps, summarizing what you’ve discussed today. Who cares? I used it more as an opportunity to get in and see what was happening. And then of course one leads to another because you get some kind of validation. I did that even before I joined university. You asked me about friends, they all thought I was completely nuts because a normal person before university might choose to take a gap year to discover themselves or to climb a mountain or whatever. But I thought “This is an amazing opportunity to take a year out and explore the shoeboxes in a deeper way.” Because when I was at school, you don’t really have that much time, you’d never have a six-month stretch. And there were actually programs for it instead of me trying to figure out all sorts of stories as to why they should let me in. So I basically did two gap year programs. One was again on the investment banking site to understand more at Rothchild, the other one was within audit, because I was quite analytical, I thought “Is this something for me?”, which I figured out not at all. But it was good to know. So I did that, at university I came across the equities business, that was at Goldman Sachs. I did that in easter, I went back again in summer and I absolutely loved the equity side of the business.
Jeroen: At some point, you moved to the Netherlands. As we said earlier, you came across Van Lanschot Kempen, how did that happen specifically?
Anneka: It was actually a really simple story. At that point, I was in London at Goldman and my husband and I were going back and forth between Amsterdam and London. We got engaged and married quite young and we both knew of course it’s not sustainable. So would it be London or Amsterdam? I think we tried London and at one point he was an investor and an entrepreneur, he had a lot of physical assets, tangible stuff. His tangible stuff, warehouses, etc. were in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, etc., which makes it quite hard to be located in another country. So we both agreed “Let’s just try Holland.” But I really did not know much at all about the scene here whatsoever, I had very basic knowledge. Of course, I’d heard of a few of the bigger banks, I didn’t actually know the organisation that I work for now. So I got to know the firm, it was actually quite ironic, there was a Belgian partner at Goldman at the time, a lovely guy. In my total naivety, I thought “You’re Belgian, that looks close to Holland, you must know. What do you think would suit me?” And of course, now I know that there’s a huge difference between the two but it looked close on the map at the time. By coincidence, that was actually a period where there were a few Dutch bankers that were in London at Goldman that had moved over to the Netherlands, to Kempen. And that’s how I got to know them and I had a coffee with them and I thought the story was fantastic. We want to really take this organisation to another level and make it a real international boutique, etc. And through those conversations, of course that’s where I got to know Van Lanschot. So it was never my plan, but there’s a reason I’ve stayed for 13 years. It’s just really been fantastic, the total meritocracy, everything is possible, the right mindset, creative, so I stayed on.
Jeroen: You are also the perfect person to ask about cultural differences between the UK and the Netherlands. I’ve studied in London myself and I’ve worked in London a lot. I do see quite big differences, do you see them as well?
Anneka: Massive. It’s unbelievable that such a massive difference in culture can be crossed with a 40-minute flight. It’s just massive. In the beginning, I was just totally shocked. I just couldn’t believe it. It was completely alien to me.
Jeroen: What is the top three of differences?
Anneka: I think first of all, the number one is the one I like the most which is why I would find it very hard to go back to London or England. The number one is the way that Dutch people communicate, this classic directness that everybody talks about, people talk about it for a reason. In the UK, you would operate according to a criticism sandwich. So if you’re not pleased with something, you first compliment, you squeeze it in the middle and you compliment and the other person walks away feeling quite good about themselves and doesn’t end up changing much. I didn’t know it then, but in retrospect, my gosh what an inefficient way to operate and actually with not much integrity around it. Whereas here, it’s so impairing to just be able to speak your truth and just say “Listen, I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but this is my experience and this is a problem. How do you look at that?” So a huge black and white difference, honestly. So that is the number one but that is the bit that I just love. It took me a while to get used to, I was shocked. But I love it. That’s one. The second one is that there’s a different sense of urgency and that’s the one that I was a bit worried about when I moved because I think with larger cities, there’s generally a bigger sense of urgency. Because the city is busier, cost of living is going to be higher, it’s larger so there’s a bigger commute. There’s just more stress and you feel the stress carried by individuals everywhere. If you then add to that the fact that within financial services, if you are in a certain hub – and London has many other hubs – it’s quite a big hub for financial services. The level of competition is extreme, because it attracts a lot of international people who are fighting for the same job, so the ratio is absurd. What you notice, even if you are seated in a certain environment, there is always some sense of paranoia “I need to be on my game.” Because things are moving, things are happening. Whereas what I was quite surprised by when I moved over, there was a very different attitude about things. Because there isn’t as much stress that you pick up and I was shocked, I saw people riding their bikes with a smile on their face. I’ve never seen somebody ride a bike with a smile on their face in London. There’s nothing to smile about, it’s raining, there’s a double-decker bus that’s about to run you over. Now things have changed but it’s a very different mindset and there’s obviously a good thing and a bad thing about it. The thing that I promised myself was that I wouldn’t let myself get too comfortable. Because there are disadvantages of being comfortable. The good thing about it is you are less in a rat race, you are less on autopilot, you’ve got time to think. And that’s something I really massively took advantage of in a way that I think is even bigger than I would have thought. It for sure is bigger that I would have thought. So I would say those are the two main differences.
Jeroen: I would say one other thing is – and it has a lot to do with the sense of urgency – the competitiveness, for example in the schooling system. You have really great universities in the Netherlands but not as great as the greatest universities in the UK or in the US, I would argue. But equally, you have a lot of universities in the UK and the US that are not even coming close to the average level in the Netherlands. What would you say – and you mentioned 4-year-olds getting tested – what is the middle ground here? What would be the best outcome for the Netherlands? Should we have an Oxford/Cambridge/LSE-like institution? Or is this alright?
Anneka: It’s funny, because when I moved over, I judged because I thought “Gosh, I’m used to this. Why is this? This seems a bit laisser faire, what’s going on?” But I think that was an ignorant judgement because as I got really to understand cultures, society and obviously I’m 13 years down the road, so you pick up a lot, I really respect the approach here. I massively respect the approach here. My oldest one started in an international school because he was born one or two years after I’d moved but our youngest two are in a Dutch school because it took me a while to understand the system and I think it’s brilliant. The other thing I find very interesting is the level of entrepreneurship in the Netherlands, it’s shocking if you look at the stats for the size of the country etc. I think what helps is that I think the education system takes more time. Yes, it can be a bit more comfortable. Yes, there are things where I think “Do you have to take so many years studying?” You could question all of these things. But on the other hand, I think that it’s a system which truly encourages creativity whereas in the UK, it’s a system which does unfortunately sometimes encourage goal-seeking the outcome versus enjoying the education process. And when things are so competitive, it’s very hard to enjoy the process. It’s about “I need to get my mark because I need to get the seat in the university because I need to get the job because otherwise life sucks.” It’s a very different approach. The other thing I have noticed, I’m so impressed by what I have observed happening over the last 10-13 years in terms of the Dutch universities, it’s amazing if you look at the Delfts of this world. I’ve been asked a few times to speak at some of these universities and I see the crowd. First of all, it’s extremely international, much more than I would have guessed, had I not checked it out. Number two, the level of ambition. I came across international people and I asked them “Why did you choose to be here instead of the UK, the US?” And they said “Well, first of all the fees are just absurd in the other places” and then it begs the obvious question “Are these places so much better?” It’s a very interesting question. So I’m actually very bullish on what I’ve seen at least from the system here. Of course, there are things that can improve. There is never a right way. I think that if somebody has the right mindset in a school in a way that permits them to have a little bit of creativity and truly have a passion for what they are learning and pick the areas that they’re interested in, I think it’s a great place to be, actually.
Jeroen: Just to be fair to everyone I know, most of the people listening to this podcast are Dutch. What is the number one thing we can learn? If there is a ‘we’, because that’s already very arguable, if there is a Dutch culture, I don’t know. But what is the number one thing we can learn from England or the UK?
Anneka: I think it would be good to expose younger people to a sense of competition. I think it would be good to really encourage younger people, it doesn’t matter at what age you start, why don’t you go out and explore the world? Try to get involved in competitive companies. Apply for these internships because maybe you’ll get a place and you can see this world and learn quite quickly. Even when you don’t get in, look into the application process and see the stats of who will get in. It’s an eyeopener. But the sense of urgency is very much there. I think it’s important because even the Netherlands is internationalizing really fast. So competition is there and that’s something which I would like to encourage my children to do, just to keep that kind of bigger picture mindset.
Jeroen: That’s great. Two things that I really took from my time in London were one: how to communicate. I think people in the UK really from an early age are used to present, to communicate what they want and how they see things in the world and they’re really good at presenting. And number two: I would say it’s easier to outperform in the Netherlands once you have been working or studying in the UK or in the US. Because if you work hard in the UK, that means you work super hard in the Netherlands. If you work average in the UK, you still work hard in the Netherlands. So it’s easier to outperform and to show what you can do. At least that’s my experience. But one thing I wanted to present to you are the teaser and the pleaser, which really fit neatly within the last topic. The teaser I wrote down is: Given the Netherlands is in the periphery of financial services or is not in the centre, financial services in the Netherlands will always be behind places like London or New York.
Anneka: And that’s a challenge question?
Jeroen: That’s the teaser. Do you agree with that or not?
Anneka: I think one could make that statement based on what you’ve just said but I totally disagree. And it’s also a little bit about how I’m wired, because this is sort of my mindset. So let’s see if there is a chance for a competitive edge, etc. I’ve done this all my life. But I totally disagree and the reason I totally disagree is that there’s a few things going on in the Netherlands which put the entire financial system at a spot which offers a massive competitive edge. I think one of them is the sheer size of assets. It’s astronomical if you think about the fact we’re number eight in the world in term of size of the pension market globally. It’s absurd. Now, having these sorts of assets provides a great platform. It provides a platform in terms of setting global standards about what’s already happened, best practices around approaching pensions and the system and LDI-investing, etc. I think that’s one. The other thing is, it’s such a kind of Goldilocks situation because if you’re sitting on so many assets you’re very serious, which means you are a very serious counterparty for other countries, other very serious global players to take seriously. Yet, you’re not a threat because you’re the Netherlands and the Netherlands has this great perception of being admirable, respected but not a threat. It’s not a huge nation globally. So I think that provides a beautiful Goldilocks where you can learn from others, you can collaborate, you can experiment, you can try. Whereas, if you’re a bigger nation, it’s maybe more difficult because you are a threat. I think that’s one. I think the other thing is there’s a very deep inherent entrepreneurial spirit in the Netherlands and as I said, I was shocked by it. I’ve never had so many entrepreneurial friends. I’m used to salary friends, very different. And I think there’s this concept that because the Netherlands as a domestic market isn’t big enough, because it’s a small country, if you want to do something you have to think big. You have no choice but to think big. And I think at the same time, the Netherlands is a great test market because it’s so small with the high population density, etc. I think for those two reasons certain things, be it what sorts of stuff you’ve done from a payment perspective or the high frequency trading world or how options were created, it’s really serious stuff from a global perspective. I think it’s kind of those factors. So I think the biggest risk is more of a perception problem and a marketing problem and a risk-taking problem but I think all the ingredients are there to make the situation here – especially post-Brexit – a very serious venue for finance, according to me.
Jeroen: I think you should become the ambassador for financial service in the Netherlands because you’re such a big fan of the country and the industry! On the pleasing side, are there particular books that you have loved reading or that you give to people? And maybe generally speaking, are you someone who reads a lot?
Anneka: I’m less of a reader, I’m more of an audio book person. I guess it’s still reading but in a different format because I love to walk and listen. As I’ve mentioned earlier as well, I’ve always been really interested in things around the mind, psychology, philosophy, that sort of thing. A long time ago, I was fascinated by Tony Robbins and his approach and I participated in two fire walks where I just walked on hot coals and I did that as part of his workshop. I wasn’t the only one; thousands of people did it. And it was very powerful, because it proves to you it’s not even that you are special, it’s just that if you wire a bunch of people up into truly believing in mind over matter, things can happen that are crazy. And that really opened my mind to this world and I think in that sense Joe Dispenza is an amazing author and I think how he combines physics, tangible laws of the universe with what the mind is capable of doing, I really enjoy that and he’s got many books that are really brilliant. Becoming supernatural or You are the placebo, it’s just very interesting, very thought-provoking. The fun lighter stuff which I do a lot of as well, by the way, otherwise life is way too serious and maybe a bit boring are the things that everybody does, all the Netflix, Apple TV, TV shows, completely light-hearted things to end the day on and have a laugh before you go to bed. But I prefer to watch that instead of read that.
Jeroen: That’s great. Being at about 90% of this interview, I’d love to ask you about how you combine work and your family and your private life.
Anneka: It’s always best to ask my kids and see what they think about it because as I said, you’re always trying and you hope it’s going okay. First of all, I’m very fortunate and I was very clear about that with my husband together to make sure we’ve got a good infrastructure at home. Because I always had this policy that the house should run beautifully, assuming I’m not there. Because then you don’t have the stress of “Oh my gosh, this child has a football club or a tennis club or a hockey club or whatever.” So that’s just the status quo, which means that when you’re there and when you are with your children, you’re not thinking about the logistics after the trainers fits but you’re thinking more about “How are you?” and really deep conversations. So that’s one thing. We’ve had a nanny at home for a while and that makes a huge difference and time tables and all that. That’s a really big thing. The other thing which has been by far my biggest supporter is my husband, because I think it’s very important that at home, as a partnership, you both agree on “What are we trying to achieve and what does that mean? Therefore, what do we need to make sure we have at home to make sure things can run smoothly?” But the most important thing of all is a cliché, but it’s really true, really really enjoy the moments as the highest quality moments. Really truly enjoy it. If a girlfriend of mine wants to have lunch with me on a Saturday, that’s really a once in a year thing, because on my Saturday and Sunday, yes, I do often have work that I need to take care of but I’m very particular about how I manage that in terms of scheduling the weekends. But my weekends are just gold; they are completely precious. What I try and do, all the less fun bits, let’s try and get that slotted in in the week in part of the infrastructure so that I can truly just have fun with my children and enjoy and find out who they are and what’s happening this week. That’s how we try but I think so far, it seems to be going okay and we’re really enjoying that of course.
Jeroen: How do you stay fit both physically and mentally?
Anneka: Especially the physical bit, that’s probably my biggest Achilles heel, because I just can’t figure out where I’m supposed to squeeze all the stuff in. You have to figure something out, I never ended up going to the gym or whatever. So I got a road cycle subscription, so you have them at home which is fantastic. You can do a little spinning for 15 minutes or something in pyjamas before you shower. So I do that. Lots of walking, I love walking. I try and listen to books walking, etc. Mentally, that’s something I think I’ve always been doing a lot more of, which is constantly expanding your brain. Asking questions, meeting a lot of people, I love meeting new people. Figuring out what’s going on, seeing how that fits into the context of other things, listening to audio books. The Joe Dispenzas of this world, how does the brain actually operate? That’s something I do quite regularly.
Jeroen: If we look a little bit into the future, in my preparation for this interview I read somewhere “I’ve always done things early in my life. I married at 19, got my first kid at 22.” Of course, it’s really hard to predict how things will go in the future but does this tell me something about the stuff you still want to do, given you are only 34 now?
Anneka: I guess doing things early, I certainly didn’t do it on purpose. The two things you are referring to, I’m not sure where that came from but it came from somewhere. I can’t remember where I said that.
Jeroen: It’s true, right?
Anneka: Yeah, it’s true. But I never planned it that way at all. I mean, if people had asked me prior, I would’ve said “No, I’m going to be married in maybe my early 30’s, kids late 30’s. I’ve got too much to do.” I didn’t plan that. So it’s not something I’ve done intentionally. I’m grateful for it because I think it matured me in a much earlier phase in life and allowed me to grow much faster than I maybe would’ve otherwise, in many aspects of my personality. In terms of going forward, I really don’t believe in being in a rush. The danger when you do a lot of things very young is that you suddenly find that you’re in a bit of a rush because everything went fast. I think I really made that mental switch 5-7 years ago or something when I realized “No, actually it’s really about pacing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” So in terms of what my next steps would be and is that growth trajectory as steep and all that? There are not even relevant discussions anymore. As long as I think I’m growing as an individual, as long as I truly think I’m adding value career-wise to the organisation I’m in and I can really feel like I can make that tangible, so it’s not just a feeling but I can look at something and say “No, it’s true. I did add value”, I’m extremely happy. If I’m not adding value anymore, there’s a problem so what are we going to do about it? I find it really hard when people ask “Well, what’s next?” and “Where are you going to be?” because I actually don’t know. It’s more of the other metrics that I’m following more seriously.
Jeroen: But it’s likely to be in the financial services industry or would you say “I’m totally open at some point to move into a completely different industry”?
Anneka: No, I don’t think I’ve had enough of the financial services industry yet, because I love it too much.
Jeroen: Wonderful. So that gives you the opportunity to maybe have you on the podcast one more time somewhere in the next few years. So who knows! Because there are so many topics I still would like to dive into, but we already had quite a long conversation which is great.
Anneka: Yeah, thanks so much!
Jeroen: Before wrapping up, I would like to ask you if there is something where you say “I would love to share this” or “Jeroen, it’s unfortunate that you didn’t ask this?”
Anneka: No, I think you’ve asked a whole array of questions. I’m perfectly satisfied, thanks! Thanks for asking.
Jeroen: Thank you very much. We’ll give you a small present afterwards for all the time you’ve spent with us and all the great answers to all those questions. I felt very privileged to ask them and for this wide-ranging conversation, thank you so much!
Anneka: Thanks for your time. Thanks, Jeroen!
Jeroen: Thank you!
You’ve been listening to Leaders in Finance. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and we do appreciate very much any feedback you might have. What’s keeping you busy and whom would you like us to talk to in the future? Please let us know through an Apple or Google review. You can also contact us through social media platforms or directly by sending an email. We would very much appreciate it if you’d reach out to us. We would also like thank our partners for their ongoing support in making this podcast possible. They are Interim Valley, FG Lawyers, Odgers Berndtson executive search and Roland Berger.