The new, eleventh issue of Optimum magazine for smart investors has been published: read all about how KD Funds, the first management company in Slovenia, became part of the international Generali Group. History, tradition, experience, looking to the future and strength: these are our competitive advantages. Do not miss the double interview: "From now on we are even stronger", said Josef Beneš, Chief Investment Officer of Generali CEE Holding B.V. and Chief Executive Officer of Generali Investments CEE, and Luka Podlogar, CEO of Generali Investments in Slovenia.
How would you present Generali Investments, an asset management company and a subsidiary of Generali?
Josef Beneš: Generali is the name under which companies operate comprehensively in Europe with a global reach in US, Latin American and Asian markets. In Central and Eastern Europe (the CEE region), where its operations are incorporated under the umbrella company Generali CEE Holding, based in Prague, Generali is present in the markets of 13 countries. So far, it has been active in four countries in this geographical area with Generali Investments companies in the field of asset management, each with a local asset management centre and a team of investment experts.
Luka Podlogar: It is true that, until now, the Slovenian public has known Generali primarily as an insurance company with good products, an international presence and a long history, and ultimately, as a company based in Trieste. But due to its enormous balance sheet, the Generali Group is also a large asset manager. The Generali Investments brand includes a number of asset management activities, ranging from investment management of insurance companies, various mutual funds, to private equity and real estate investment strategies, as well as very niche investment strategies implemented within individual investment boutiques. Looking at individual investment classes, Generali Investments covers most areas: from classic cash, bond, mixed and equity strategies, to more niche strategies within private equity, real estate and infrastructure, and so on, as well as hedge-fund strategies. Through its investment boutiques, Generali Investments also covers more specialised niches, such as investing in accordance with environmental, social, corporate (ESG) criteria.
Can you summarise key information about the size of Generali Investments for our readers?
Josef Beneš: In total, globally speaking, Generali Investments has €443 billion in assets under management. In the CEE countries, we manage €20 billion in assets, making Generali Investments one of the largest management companies in the region. Financial experts with excellent knowledge of the specifics of individual markets operate in centres in Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and, of course, also in Ljubljana. Together, there are more than 250 employees in these centres alone, including more than 40 top portfolio managers.
Luka Podlogar: With the acquisition of KD Funds, Generali Investments has added three new countries within the Central and Eastern European region, namely Slovenia, Croatia and North Macedonia, to the existing four, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. For example, the volume of assets under management in Slovenia is, globally, of course small, compared to the aforementioned €443 billion, but we must bear in mind that Slovenia is not a large country. However, the local presence is of paramount importance for Generali Investments as the company wants to be close to its clients, that is, the investors.
With the acquisition of KD Funds, Generali Investments continues its more than 25 years of operations of the first management company in Slovenia and one of the leading companies in this region. Where do you see the main benefits of this story?
Josef Beneš: Trust and experience are key to investments. These are the values most prized by investors according to financial research. They are not easy to acquire, they cannot be borrowed and they are difficult to conquer. KD Funds built them. Generali Investments does not want to repeat mistakes, such as some American institutions did in the CEE region in the 90’s, when their management companies or banks tried to approach different markets in identical, uniform steps. Savings and investments in the CEE region have evolved very differently – according to the situation and experience of the financial markets, their history, structure and ownership of the capital markets. The great advantage of a quarter century of KD Funds is that with this heritage, that is, with the position and reputation in the market and knowledge, we maintain a local approach and proximity to our clients.
Luka Podlogar: It is important that the DNA of KD Funds remains the same after the takeover and name change. People are the most important in our business. The team that has successfully managed our funds for many years remains the same. In addition, KD Funds and Generali Investments share the same values: excellence in management, long-term vision and a winning, team spirit.
Mr Beneš, how would you assess the current situation on the Slovenian market? Do you expect Slovenes to invest more in mutual funds and similar products in the future compared to, for example, bank deposits?
Josef Beneš: I have to praise the Slovenian market. Looking at the numbers, it appears that Slovenian investors are behaving quite maturely. The share of dynamic products, including equity funds, is higher than in other CEE countries, for example. Contrary to say Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are relatively small countries, but regardless of this, we also expect investment growth in the long run. The economy is healthy, wages and other income will grow. We are confident that the demand for asset management and investment in funds will continue to grow significantly.
Mr Podlogar, what is said is a positive outlook, and it appears that Slovenes are increasingly recognising opportunities to increase the value of their money. On the other hand, sometimes we still get the feeling that many people are still holding back on their investments. Why?
Luka Podlogar: Slovenians currently have a lot of assets in bank accounts, where nothing is earned, or tied into real estate. We are still a little too reserved about financial investments, which is mainly due to relatively poor financial literacy. We are unfortunately at the tail end of Europe in this area. But I am convinced that financial literacy will increase in the coming years and that more and more Slovenes will decide to invest their savings in capital markets. Of course, the most effective instrument are investment funds. At Generali Investments, we will ensure that our products are always well managed and attractive to our investors in terms of investment strategies, as well as competitive in terms of overall management costs.
What benefits will the operation under a new, significantly larger umbrella company or group bring to individual and institutional investors in Slovenia? What impact can the power and size of Generali Investments have on the market and on the investments of investors?
Josef Beneš: Together we are stronger. By integrating the knowledge of four Generali Investments centres in the region, we will be able to offer our clients and partners the best financial products and services. We will have even better market insight, which can bring even better results and risk management. Our contributions and analytics of CEE markets are already appreciated by colleagues in Western markets, and at the same time we have access to the analyses of investment teams of the entire Group, from Paris to Trieste.
Luka Podlogar: A strong financial background is undoubtedly very important. Moreover, we cannot emphasize enough the extraordinary importance of knowledge that has accumulated in the Generali Group throughout its nearly two centuries of history. Generali Investments employs more than 450 experts who today manage, as was said earlier, a total of €443 billion in a range of different investment classes. None of the Slovenian asset managers has access to such a large team with such management knowledge.
Will the range of products and services you offer to investors in Generali Investments continue to expand? What can they expect?
Josef Beneš: There will be many changes that may not be visible but are very important. These include upgraded investment management services, such as investments that fit the liability structure and risk models. We will also develop new products in our companies in the region and offer additional investment opportunities.
Luka Podlogar: There will definitely be innovations. I am pleased that we will soon be able to launch a new fund within the Generali Group that will meet the needs of Slovenian investors in an area where it has been difficult to invest so far. Working with the hinterland of a large merged Slovenian insurance company will also bring innovations in the field of investment risk insurance, where, in partnership with Adriatic Slovenica and Zavarovalnica Generali, we will offer a combination of the best products of both insurance companies.
What do you want to say to existing investors and all those potential investors who may choose to manage their assets at Generali Investments?
Josef Beneš: We are building a new, strong asset management group in Central and Eastern Europe, and Slovenia is part of this development that will bring investors the highest quality product and service offering. We want to maintain the trust of our existing customers with good results, an expanded offer and a strong local presence. Just as we want our current investors to remain an active part in our future journey, we will, of course, strive to persuade new ones. We can offer great advantages over the competition in Slovenia and in other markets of Central and Eastern Europe to them as well. All clients, old and new, will be able to take advantage of the long-term positive effects of increasing the value of their money.
Luka Podlogar: In the end, I will once again emphasize the importance of cooperation, trust and closeness. Business is people. The team that has been responsible for good management results and good financial consulting to Slovenian investors remains the same. This means that nothing will change for our clients in the short term and that they retain all the existing benefits. On the other hand, in the long run, we will strive to be even better and to offer investors innovative, well-managed products, backed by the knowledge, resources and power brought by the large Generali Group.
Flip through the new edition of Optimum (the magazine is in Slovenian).