Achievement in Diversity: Tina Byles Williams, FIS Group
It’s about managing money and making a difference.
Tina Byles Williams was recognized for Achievement in Diversity at the 2016 Women in Finance Markets Choice Awards.
Describe the highlights of your career to date and your current role/responsibilities.
The highlight of my career has been founding FIS Group in 1996 and building it into the nearly $5 billion AUM institutional investment management company that it is today. I founded the firm through self-financing and it’s now one of the leading manager-of-managers in the world. My first opportunity to really make a difference in this industry came when I served as the CIO for the City of Philadelphia pension system. I created one of the country’s first emerging manager programs, which increased the number of women and minority-owned investment managers that were hired.
I knew there was a hidden opportunity in identifying entrepreneurial firms that were small but talented and arraying these high performing managers into investor portfolios. Today, we source boutique firms globally and some of our investors are the most prominent public and private pensions plans in the country. As CEO and Chief Investment Officer, I oversee the firm’s investment strategy, manager search, and management decisions. As an active CEO/CIO, I’m also involved in the day-to-day portfolio management and I’ve developed FIS Group’s market forecast models that we use to guide investments in countries and sectors around the world through a global tactical portfolio.
Additionally, I contribute significantly to the firm’s thought leadership, including the quarterly Global Market Outlooks and Market Insights Alerts, which examine broad, economic themes. Most recently, we put out a report analyzing how momentum investing can be either a significant tailwind or exacerbate risks and undermine portfolio diversification. This business has also afforded me the opportunity to travel around the country and internationally to places like China, Dubai, and South Africa, sharing my insights, speaking on panels at conferences, and meeting with investors and entrepreneurial managers about important issues in the asset management industry.
What do you — and by extension, your colleagues — do in the area of diversity?
In an industry dominated by large institutional asset management firms, my philosophy, and what my work has demonstrated, is that diversity is a driver of positive investment returns. Our firm is modeled as a fund of funds, and we identify and construct funds comprised of emerging investment firms that have a high probability of success. Many of these emerging firms are minority and/or women owned. We specialize in conquering the complexity of identifying high skill, high active share entrepreneurial managers that have gone largely undiscovered by the institutional investor community.
To date, FIS Group has brought over 160 investment firms into its portfolios, 60% of which are women and minority-owned. Manager of managers are critical in driving diversity in the investment management industry. These smaller, talented, firms often do not have the same access and opportunities as those in large bulge bracket firms and because of our role we have the ability to aid in their growth.
FIS Group has funded over 75 products offered by diverse firms. Among the firms we have funded, 50% were recommended or retained for direct allocations by pension plan sponsors. In addition to providing early funding to managers, through the FIS Group Ecosystem we support and develop the growth of entrepreneurial and emerging managers by addressing many of the development challenges they face in today’s market environment. The Ecosystem is built to provide networking, best practice guidance, coaching, access to a network of private operating capital providers and meaningful discounts for various investment management support services.
Our commitment to diversity is also demonstrated through our culture and corporate citizenship at the firm. By hiring a diverse talent base and supporting impactful initiatives in our community, we continue to make strides in acting as a catalyst for positive change.
What is your perspective on being a successful woman working in financial markets, and what is your advice to those who may strive for this?
It’s no secret that the financial services industry is male-dominated and the rate of growth is progressively slow. More distressingly, several studies have shown that female participation, particularly at very senior levels, has declined, particularly since the global financial crisis. However, there’s a significant amount of research that shows that there’s a correlation between profitability and high performing returns at women-owned firms and where women sit on boards. The time has passed for just meeting the bare minimum quotas for women representation. Having women in a variety of positions should be imperative to your business model. I see that as even more of an opportunity for women to stand out and break barriers.
My advice to other women seeking success in this field is to be self-confident and know your strengths and value, but also be passionate about what you’re doing. Trust that you have the proper skill set and make sure your voice is heard. If you’re bringing value and are confident in your views people will listen. Many of these firms are seeking women’s representation, especially in the decision-making process, because their diverse experiences and skills can be key to high performance, to driving growth, and to attracting new clients and investors.
I also think it’s critical for women in our positions to pay it forward. It is important to mentor and advocate for other women to decrease the gender disparity in this industry. We not only have the power to influence the change, we can also drive it.