On Asset Management

There is the biblical narrative of Yossef, a man sold into slavery by his brothers, eventually finding himself as a prisoner in Egypt. As time goes by, the monarch of Egypt, the Pharaoh, has a perplexing dream, and is unable to understand its meaning. After hearing the dream, Yossef helps the king understand that a time of plenty and abundance is expected within his realm of authority, proceeded by a time of famine and drought. The recommendation of Yossef in light of this foretelling was to store up in the time of plenty, so that there will be sustenance in the time of lack.

Throughout history, people groups around the world have stored up grain and other food items in times of harvest for later consumption. BBC journalist Nancy Kacungira tweeted this ancient method of storage still in use today:

As human societies have developed, those who have lived through the various rhythms of seasons and geographic events have sought ways to soften and guard against their blows. Or to “subdue the earth”. To tame the effects of the wild forces of nature to bring about their own flourishing, and that of their families and communities. These storehouses were one such way of doing so.

Over time, with the changing composition of human settlement and activity, the nature of this storage has also changed. Since the time of the industrial revolution in Europe, there has been an increasing migration towards towns and cities in hope for a better life. 63% of those who live in South Africa live in urban areas, and that number is increasing rapidly. And while there have been calls to develop rural areas to lessen the load on these urban centers, the trend in unlikely to stop.

With the migration from rural areas to urban areas, and the move from subsistence farming to wage or salary earning, the nature of “storing the harvest” also adapts. As rural societies sought to tame the effects of geographical rhythms affecting their planting and harvesting, those in urban areas seek to tame the effects of economic rhythms affecting their earning and ability to spend.

Those who’ve had the fortune of consistent income over a long period of time can sometimes forget the erratic and unforgiving nature of the earth. Statistical inferences of past income cannot always reliably determine future income. And in an attempt to ensure the sustained flourishing of individuals, families and communities, asset managers have become trusted storehouses of many of us in cities and towns around the world.

When total assets under management collectively increase for asset managers within a region, it’s a sign that there is more saving within that region. Though recently there are questions over the Keynesian assumption that more savings lead to more investment within the economy, we can still hold onto the hope that more investments within the various asset managers results in more flourishing for both current and future generations. When the proverbial years of drought and famine arrive, there is a cushioning from the devastating effects of its blows.

So from the investment analysts who, like Yossef, can read the times and determine where to invest, to the financial advisers, to the various managers, to the actuaries, to the technology teams, to the service teams, to the finance and human resources teams and everyone in-between who help build and manage the storehouses for the flourishing of our society, you’re doing good work.

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